Missing in Action: Libraries, Archives, and Rare Book Dealers Working with Each Other to Combat Theft

It is becoming increasingly beneficial to rely on our professional networks than to exist in silos when it comes to theft. I recently read articles in the New York Times and The Guardian which speak to the interconnectedness of our world, ‘We Are a Big Family’: Dealers Unite Against Thefts of Rare Books and Rare book experts join forces to stop tomb raiders British Library conference highlights rise in thefts from heritage libraries around the world, with tens of thousands of manuscripts missing.

Archivists, librarians, rare book dealers, and specialists from around the world have always been rightly concerned about this issue. Everyone is affected by the loss of an item, from the patron to the librarian or archivist to the rare book dealer who may unknowingly end up with the book in her collection.

nypl.digitalcollections.892afe6c-a708-a150-e040-e00a1806202c.001.rBecoming more connected can also build trust and obligation.  In 1997, there was a discussion on this topic in The Christian Science Monitor, which notes in Lessons on Catching Bandits of Rare Books: OFF-THE-SHELF SECURITY, “Dealers and collectors, who say the public probably doesn’t realize just how small their community is, have developed a system for notifying one another about missing works.”   Cultivating our relationships and networks could increasingly mitigate theft, which will help to minimize or perhaps one day halt the buying and selling of stolen cultural heritage materials.

Everything comes back to the foundations we build, beyond the safety of brick and mortar. Clearly, electronic book tags, bag checks, surveillance cameras, security meetings, among other policies and procedures can be effective, but, can also miss the mark. We must think past the usual to imagine new possibilities of securing our collections.



*Spencer Collection, The New York Public Library. “The very curious and wonderful picture book of Pagan history” The New York Public Library Digital Collections. 1890. http://digitalcollections.nypl.org/items/892afe6c-a708-a150-e040-e00a1806202c

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