Academic journal article Library Philosophy and Practice

Theft and Vandalism of Books, Manuscripts, and Related Materials in Public and Academic Libraries, Archives, and Special Collections

Academic journal article Library Philosophy and Practice

Theft and Vandalism of Books, Manuscripts, and Related Materials in Public and Academic Libraries, Archives, and Special Collections

Article excerpt

Clipping, defacing, misplacing, and stealing books exist in varying degrees in every busy library. Current magazines, bound magazines, and reference books suffer the greatest loss. To have rules printed in a handbook or posted in the library is not sufficient; they must be taught.

-Maud Minster

Book Theft and Mutilation (Minster, 1942, p. 264)

I have known men to hazard their fortunes, go long journeys halfway about the world, forget friendships, even lie, cheat, and steal, all for the gain of a book.

-A. S. W. Rosenbach

The Man Who Loved Books Too Much (Bartlett, 2009, iv)

Theft and Vandalism in Libraries, Archives, and Special Collections

Theft of books and related materials - including, but not limited to, magazines, periodicals, newspapers, manuscripts, maps, and single-page items, as well as non-book items such as video tapes, DVDs, and CDs - in libraries, archives, and special collections is not a modern phenomenon. During the Middle Ages, monks and priests chained books to desks and shelves, and disseminated dire warnings detailing the horrible fate awaiting book thieves: Hanging, drowning, burning - or worse, an all-condemning, generation-inclusive curse (Shuman, 1999). The above example highlights both the long history and severity of book theft, and is of special interest when considered in context. Compared to today's seemingly endless supply of library materials available to everyone, few literary works were created in the 14th and 15th century. Tightly controlled and kept in supervised reading rooms, they were made accessible only to the literate population. Nonetheless, books kept disappearing from scriptoriums (Shuman, 1999).

In similar fashion, vandalism has been the long-time foe of the keepers of the written word. Arson, likely the most devastating expression of vandalism affecting the book world, is said to have been recorded as early as 48 B.C.E., when parts of the Library of Alexandria were set aflame during Caesar's conquest (Fishburn, 2008). Whereas book theft is primarily driven by the desire to possess the item, vandalism is the overt expression of underlying psychopathologies by means of "intentional destruction, defacement, and disfiguration" of "property not one's own" (Goldstein, 1996, pp. 21-22). Theft and vandalism cause costly and, in many instances, irreplaceable damage to the holdings of archives, libraries, and special collections.

According to the relevant literature consulted for this research paper, the most effective methods to minimize occurrences of these types of crimes are described as the placement of preventative measures and security devices (Bahr, 1981-82; Center & Lancaster, 2004; Cravey, 2001; Evans & Ward, 2007; Hunter, 2003; Shuman, 1999). If the solution is so clearly evident, the question inevitably must be why and how it is nonetheless possible that year after year, library materials vanish, while others are returned or found in various stages of mutilation.

Theft of Books and Related Materials

Who Steals Books and Related Materials

"Stealing library books and other materials has always cut across social lines. From available evidence, library book thieves throughout recorded history have included high-ranking officials and church elders, as well as librarians themselves" (Shuman, 1999, p. 6). Observations of this kind, as well as classics such as Nicholas Basbanes' A Gentle Madness (1999) and the more recent bestseller The Man Who Loved Books Too Much (2009), encourage the misleading belief that many intellectuals and some of those affiliated with the book profession suffer from bibliokleptomania, the uncontrollable and sometimes morbid desire to possess literary works. Rather than emphasizing the damage they cause, many of the bibliophiles and bibliomaniacs in these accounts are portrayed as helpless victims, unable to resist the calling of a much-desired object. However, it would be rash to summarily dismiss the existence of book theft caused by mental disorders. …

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