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On January 29, 2001, a man entered the Royal Library in Copenhagen, Denmark. While his strange accent drew some notice, his polite demeanor and apparently keen interest in scholarly pursuits impressed the staff, and he was allowed access to books containing rare maps. He ended up making off with eight of those maps, sliced out of the books by a small razor blade he had concealed.

Reports of these types of thefts and document mutilation incidents have been on the rise in Europe, with cases occurring recently in Helsinki (Finland), The Hague, Aberystwyth (Wales), and elsewhere. Driving the crime wave is the fact that many of these maps reap more on the black market individually than they would collectively in a book or atlas.

The stolen goods pop up in antique shops, at flea markets, or on online auction sites, according to experts. For example, earlier this year, the FBI found that an 1880 atlas stolen from a Michigan library was completely sold, page by page, on eBay before the library even noticed it was missing.

One of the main hindrances to preventing and investigating these thefts is the reluctance of libraries to disclose the circumstances of the theft or what was taken, because that would require that the institution acknowledge that security was lax.

Solutions to the map theft problem were recently hashed out at a seminar held at the National Library of Wales. Tony Campbell, former map librarian at the British Library, has called for greater openness by libraries and increased cooperation among map dealers, libraries, and the police. In this same vein, Joel Kovarsky, a Virginia-based physician and map dealer, recently founded the International Antiquarian Mapsellers Association (JAMA) in part to deal with security issues and to serve as a repository for the reporting of stolen material. (A form has been posted on the site to standardize the reporting.) But Kovarsky acknowledges that getting the various parties to cooperate could be a tough sell. "There is an intrinsic distrust, I think, between libraries and dealers," he says.

To avoid embarrassment, victimized institutions would not be named on these databases. Campbell says he is in favor of opening up this database to as many eyes as possible, not just to players in the tiny library maps and map dealer world. This way, he says, dealers and auction houses "could be expected to check the register before handling material."

A first basic step toward recording stolen items is to simply catalog all items, which many libraries have not done. Other suggestions include extending existing cataloging standards to include information vital for map identification, such as smudges, blemishes, or physical damage, or even marking maps with stamps.

Unfortunately, experts say, almost any physical detail can be altered, and stamps can be chemically removed. Higher technology solutions such as tagging items visible only under ultraviolet light, experts also point out, raise cost concerns. Also, prohibiting dealers from selling works with library markings wouldn't work either, because many of these were legitimately sold by libraries or otherwise legally obtained. In addition, markings might be impossible to trace.

Tom Moulton, head of security at the British Library in London, has proposed certain basic, low-cost measures that libraries could adopt. For example, researchers should be required to show proof of identity and residence, and photos should be taken of them and incorporated into their passes. In addition, he suggests that researchers be searched upon exiting reading rooms.

Meanwhile, map thefts are expected to continue as long as money can be made. "This is a centuries-old method of theft and profit-making," says Isaac Gewirtz, a curator at the New York Public Library and co-chair of the security committee of the Rare Books and Manuscripts Section of the Association of College and Research Libraries. And, he says, it's not likely to end soon.

IAMA's and Campbell's Web sites can be reached via SM Online.
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Title Annotation:prevention of map thefts in libraries
Author:Gips, Michael A.
Publication:Security Management
Article Type:Brief Article
Geographic Code:4EUDE
Date:Aug 1, 2002
Words:648
Previous Article:Letters.
Next Article:Willing and able, but ready? (News and Trends).
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