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ALA 2010 Roundup: Day 3

RBMS Program: To Catch a Thief

This was an interesting session, as these topics always are. What struck me, however, is the tension between the More Product, Less Process trend and the need for enough descriptive catalog data to prove that you own this item. And then there are the digitization projects that are producing high quality images of your stuff that could be used as evidence (or maybe in place of descriptive cataloging?). All interesting questions to ask, and who doesn’t like a good crime story?

Travis McDade, Curator of Law Rare Books at the University of Illinois College of Law, talked about some of the high profile book thieves that have devastated some of our libraries. McDade’s wrote The Book Thief: The True Crimes of Daniel Spiegelman (2006), an account of Columbia University’s loss and partial recovery of several million dollars worth of rare books from Butler Library.

Mark Dimunation, Chief, Rare Books & Special Collections Division, Library of Congress, started the forum by outlining some of the difficulties in recovering stolen materials. Our focus traditionally has not been on security, in fact, libraries until recently rarely reported thefts or made them public.

Descriptive catalog records can aid the recovery of stolen materials. Copy specific information can help identify materials as yours, but the cataloging practices must be consistent in order to be fully effective. Often, the level of cataloging we give something reflects our thoughts on the importance of the materials.

The LC security program was implemented to address inventory control, tracking and preservation. They developed a Tiers of Risk program to assign a value from 1-5 to each item, then they spend the bulk of time on those items that are more valuable.

Dimunation’s suggestions are to:

  • know your collections
  • have accurate records (catalog, vertical files, scholars responses to working with the materials, etc.)
  • use digital images of materials to reveal unique parts of the item
  • continually update catalog records with important information and description

[Library of Congress has several links to statutes and other resources on their site.]

Bonnie Magness-Gardiner, Program Manager, FBI Art Theft Program, said that  80% of cases reported to FBI is the result of insider theft (staff, researchers, other trusted people). Items are usually taken from collection storage areas and thus can take a long time to discover.

The Theft of Major Artwork Statute 18USC 668 was created after the Isabella Stuart Gardener theft. It covers not just museums but other cultural institutions in includes a 20 year statute of limitations.

The Interstate Transportation of Stolen Property 18USC 2314-2315 covers transporting stolen property across state lines.

The FBI Art Crime Team was created in 2004 and has 13 special agents and three special trial attorneys.

Jennifer Schaffner, Program Officer with OCLC Research and the RLG Partnership, talked about the new Missing Materials proof-of-concept project for reporting missing items via WorldCat. It was developed to provide transparency and to use WorldCat as a means to widely broadcast stolen materials.

Missing Materials is an online blog of missing rare, unique and important materials. All items must have a WorldCat record to be reported. Once registered with the database, it embeds a message on the WorldCat record and in First Search. There is an RSS feed available as well and the blog is also indexed by Google.

OCLC’s missing materials procedures helps alert librarians and book dealers to potentially stolen materials. It is a tool for warning and transparency, not for identification and recovery.


PARS Forum was on the “Pennsylvania Project, Research into Optimal Environmental Conditions,” which was funded by an IMLS research and development grant. Neal Rusnov, Architect of the Capital Complex in Harrisburg, PA, talked about he $7.2 million renovation of that building and the strict environmental controls they implemented.

His goal for the environment  is to preserve PA’s rare collections through the use of preventive conservation principles. The environmental controls are extremely tight for every aspect you can think of including lighting, heat, temperature, pollutants, fire suppression, etc.

The renovation cost $7.2 million, which is about $25 per book. The ongoing costs compute to $0.05 per book per year [my my calculations that is about $17,500 using the reported 350,000 books in the collection].

Rusanov will give tours of the facilities upon request. Lyrasis will be developing workshops and training documents using information from this project.

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