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Report of the 'Responding to Theft' seminar, held at the National Library of Wales on 25 April 2002


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This one-day meeting was organised by the British and Irish Committee for Map Information and Catalogue Systems (BRICMICS) and Antiquarian Booksellers' Association (International) (ABA) to discuss the recent growing problem of map thefts from libraries in the UK and Europe. It was attended by over 30 representatives of a range of institutions, particularly map libraries, and included five main presentations and a detailed discussion of future strategies for dealing with this problem.

Following a welcome by Andrew Green, Librarian of National Library of Wales (NLW), Tony Campbell, as Chairman, explained the background to the day, and described the three main groups that need to be involved in discussing what responses to theft should be: libraries, the map and antiquarian book dealers, and the police. Whilst the libraries themselves were well represented at this meeting, only three dealers were present, whilst unfortunately the police representative had had to pull out at a late stage. He also noted that we also had no representatives from the Museums, Libraries and Archives Council (MLA) [formerly: Resource: the Council for Museums, Archives and Libraries], the art insurance world, nor many international representatives. Despite these omissions, he hoped this meeting could be a concrete stage in rebuilding trust between the various groups, evolving better codes of practice, and assist in reducing library thefts and the speedy apprehension of thieves.

The first speaker was Tom Moulton, Head of Security at the British Library, London, on 'The British Library Experience'. First, he described what was known about the two main map thieves who had operated at the British Library: Mr Melvyn Perry (also presenting himself under the names Nelson, Cook and West) and Mr JP Bellwood. Both had various reader passes issued to them between 1993-5, both were regular visitors to the BL, and both were subsequently convicted in 1995 and 1996 of stealing various BL materials, particularly illustrated colour plates. It was also noted that following Mr Perry's initial thefts, the then Head of Security had managed to install Closed Circuit Television (CCTV), and CCTV evidence was used in bringing Mr Bellwood to trial.

Second, Tom proposed a number of security measures which libraries should consider adopting:-

Essential Security Measures:

Desirable measures:

Third, Tom finished by discussing the importance of communication, between the libraries, the police and dealers. For example, if a tip-off from a bookseller that Mr Bellwood had been released three years ago had been passed on to other libraries, it is possible that the thefts at NLW could have been prevented. Despite the need to comply with data protection and human rights legislation etc, factual information, such as the release of known offenders from prison ought to be communicable. Tom would seek legal advice from the Treasury on this. We should work to improve the various communication channels between us locally and internationally.

Next, Jesper Düring Jörgensen, Chief Security Advisor at the Royal Library in Copenhagen, described some'Lessons learnt at the Royal Library'. The Royal Library had implemented CCTV during the 1990s to investigate, and apprehend a thief on the staff of the Library. More extensive video footage from CCTV was also shown of Mr Bellwood's visit to the Royal Library on 29-30 January 2001, which resulted in the theft of eight valuable early maps. As noted by others, Mr Bellwood's politeness to staff and his ability to show genuine scholarly interests were unfortunately convincing and deceptive, despite some suspicions concerning his accent. Following discovery of the theft, recordings from the visible and concealed CCTV cameras were useful in showing how pages were cut from volumes using a small razor blade, and how he tried to conceal his actions from library staff.

Jesper mentioned again the importance of establishing an international network between libraries. For example, following the publicity of Mr Bellwood's theft in Copenhagen, the Royal Library in The Hague contacted Jesper concerning Mr Perry's visit to them, where he had left his notebook. This was useful as it contained a 'shopping list' of items to steal from the Royal Library in Stockholm and Helsinki University Library (following which Mr Perry was arrested in Britain and brought to trial in Finland). However, these links need to be faster and formalised. He also showed a graph with two axes, security measures and openness, to show how it was not so much an absolute set of security measures that need to be enforced, but rather the need for precautions, and the investment in them, to be relatively greater than freedom/access.

Third, Jonathan Potter, map-dealer, author, and Vice-President of the ABA (and therefore part of the International League of Antiquarian Booksellers/Ligue Internationale de la Librairie Ancienne (ILAB/LILA), spoke on 'Due care: the dealer's perspective'. Whilst noting that the map thefts had given dealers a bad name in some parts of the library world, it was important to realise that dealers themselves were similarly shocked, and keen to prevent their recurrence. Stressing that it was not in the trade's interest to deal in stolen maps, mechanisms must be put in place to allow speedy reaction to theft. Given that the police were limited by insufficient resources, and relative lack of knowledge of maps, dealers in particular need precise details of stolen items to identify them, and these details were (at present) rarely disclosed by libraries.

Jonathan also mentioned that many dealers, including the ABA, and Provincial Booksellers Fairs Association (PBFA), subscribe to the Council for the Prevention of Art Theft (CoPAT) 'Code of Due Diligence for Dealers'. Amongst other things this recommended a number of measures to prevent dealing in stolen goods, and record the provenance of items for sale. There was also a security e-mail list between some (ABA) dealers which reported stolen items, as well as shoplifters and bad payers. He also reminded the audience that in 1972 the ABA and the Rare Books Group of the Library Association drew up a list of suggestions and advice on < http://www.la-hq.org.uk/directory/prof_issues/tobam.html > 'Theft of Books and Manuscripts from Libraries', and concluded by stressing again the importance of better communication between libraries and dealers.

Fourth, David Archer, the well-known Ordnance Survey map dealer, spoke about 'Replacing the items - can the dealer help?'. Although most of the recent map thefts had involved high-value, rare, and early maps, dealers may be still be useful in helping to track down maps, and replace lost items. However, by far the most commonly used category of maps in most British libraries are Ordnance Survey maps, and these might therefore be popular targets for thieves. He suggested that ease (or otherwise) of replacement should affect the amount of security given to specific areas of map collections. Although the larger scale town plans and county series maps are relatively rare and quite difficult to replace, many smaller scale OS maps can be fairly easily acquired with a little perseverance and therefore possibly need less security. It might also be possible to get good surrogate photocopies of missing maps from other collections, but locating them would be very time consuming as no national database of OS large scale maps exists. Roger Hellyer is working on such a database.

The final presentation was given by Dr Ian Christie-Miller, of the University of London, entitled 'Beyond the paper'. This described his Paperprint imaging method for capturing digital images of hand-made paper taken with both reflected and transmitted light. The latter was particularly useful for showing watermarks, chain lines, and the flecks and fibres of the paper, which, with the conventional reflected light image, allowed a unique signature of a paper sheet to be recorded. If images of early map sheets, or pages in books were captured in this way these could act as a vital proof of origin if they are stolen. The 'Paperprint' method has been adopted by the Royal Horticultural Society for their holdings of early French printed books, following project work sponsored by the British Academy there last year.

Ian mentioned that his involvement in this area had arisen through his interest in watermarks, and early paper, and these images were a useful research tool in their own right. The 'Paperprint' technology had been designed specifically with early and vulnerable books in mind, with an electroluminescent source emitting low-UV cold, white light, and optional mirrors on stands to allow photography of pages within tightly-bound books. Image metadata can be also be recorded in a customised Filemaker Pro database, allowing search and retrieval of images. More information can be found at the < http://www.earlypaper.com > Early Paper website.

Following lunch, Tony Campbell chaired a detailed, concluding discussion on these papers, along with a number of other security subjects, and where we should go from here. He noted that libraries must evolve strategies for dealing with theft, that this seminar should be the beginning of the process, rather than the end of it, and that we must improve communication between the main communities affected by theft. In particular, he stressed the importance of the speedy disclosure of information on stolen items by libraries, the need for copy-specific information and dimensions, and the need for the wide circulation of this information. Libraries should agree to release as much information as possible, suppressing only source institution details, so that information about stolen maps themselves could be consulted as an online list. With this in mind, he also circulated and discussed the current proposal along these lines by Joel Kovarsky, under the umbrella of the new International Antiquarian Mapsellers Association (IAMA). It must be realised that the present secretive policy of libraries prevents the trade from assisting in tracking down stolen maps, and may result in libraries themselves (unwittingly) purchasing stolen material. There were no objections from the audience to these suggestions.

The audience proposed and discussed a number of practical solutions to the growing threat of theft.

The importance of proper cataloguing of collections, and of fuller recording of bibliographic information was raised. It was suggested that existing cataloguing standards be extended to include additional information vital for identifying stolen maps (such as smudges, blemishes, or physical damage), and that legal advice should be sought over what specific information would be useful in a court of law. Unfortunately, very few physical details cannot be altered, although (so far) it seems impossible to substantially extend the physical dimensions of a paper sheet, and so the size of the map sheet is certainly useful. Due to the size of map library collections, it was acknowledged that many libraries do not even have lists of items, still less catalogue records. The National Library of Wales mentioned that since the thefts last year, analytical cataloguing of maps within atlases had begun, but this was a long process.

Methods of marking and tagging library items were also discussed. Not only have many maps within atlases not been stamped, but unfortunately, even for stamped material recent thefts have shown that the conventional library stamp can be chemically removed. A further problem is due to the size of ex-library stock in circulation in second-hand bookshops, etc., that has not been properly de-accessioned, the value of the library stamp in indicating stolen material has been degraded. In the light of these problems, others discussed the higher-technology solutions, such as tagging items with information (such as telephone numbers) visible under ultra-violet light, or digital imaging using different light. Both these methods have greater resource implications, and have yet to be tested as evidence in a court of law.

A further caveat to these security measures is the recognition that in some cases stolen material may never be rediscovered. For example, major thefts at the Public Record Office in recent decades have been by those attempting to complete collections, rather than offer items for sale, and therefore issue slips of items requested by readers were of great value in tracking down thieves. As for the Royal Library in Copenhagen, we must not forget the "silent disappearance of material" by library staff, and the need for security measures in this area too.

Although we had no police representative present, it was suggested that the police should be involved in formulating any future code of conduct on library theft. Despite the fact that the police have other priorities, they often lack specialist cartographic knowledge, and different countries across the EU have different definitions of theft, their approval of any future arrangements between libraries and dealers should be sought.

Again the discussion came back to the importance of future collaboration to increase understanding. It was stressed that full disclosure of information by libraries was essential, provided the source organisation was not identified, to protect institutional pride and status as a secure repository. To sit tight on facts would only play into the hands of thieves, and encourage widely inaccurate rumours. This disclosure policy should be built into a wider code of practice involving libraries, dealers, the police, and related bodies, informed and modified by a range of future meetings, including the LIBER meeting in Copenhagen on 13-14 May 2002. Through developing such policies, it was suggested, map libraries would be in a stronger position to argue for the necessary funds to implement appropriate security measures. Following the meeting, to assist in this process, Tony Campbell has mounted a detailed set of Links to useful Internet resources relating to 'Map Theft'.

Finally Peter Barber, as Chair of BRICMICS, formally thanked Robert Davies and Jonathan Potter for arranging the seminar, to the National Library of Wales for hosting it, to Tony Campbell for chairing it, and to all the speakers for their contributions. He reiterated the need to develop a code of practice, as well as develop internal library guidelines for disclosing information. The report of this meeting and these guidelines as they develop should be widely publicised, furthering better communication between all those affected by library theft.

Chris Fleet
National Library of Scotland

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