WWW-Virtual Library: History
Map History / History of Cartography: THE Gateway to the Subject

WWW-VL Main Catalogue WWW-VL History Central Catalogue
(main menu)
What the
site is
Map History

Library Security for Maps

Report on the program sponsored by the Map and Geography Round Table (MAGERT) of the American Library Association, held in Washington DC on Sunday 24 June 2007

April Carlucci

Catalog Librarian for Maps, Yale University Library
formerly Cataloguing Manager and Curator of Modern Maps British Library Map Collections

The program was organized by Jan Dixon (University of Arkansas), Jenny Marie Johnson (University of Illinois, Urbana Champaign) and David Cobb (Harvard)

The report is reproduced here by kind permission of Cartographiti, the newsletter of the Map Curators' Group of the British Cartographic Society, No. 79 (Summer 2007): 11-16, and the author. It was placed on the web on 4 October 2007.

For a brief, official report, see < http://www.ala.org/ala/mgrps/rts/magert/MapSecurityGuidelines2007.pdf > 'Map Collection 'Security Guidelines', by Jenny Marie Johnson, Janet B. Dixon, David A. Cobb, Co-chairs of MAGERT Task Force on Library Security for Cartography Resources, July 2007

Related pages:

David Cobb (Moderator): opening remarks:
Fine arts crime is the second largest category of criminal activity after drugs. Library administrators must provide staffing and infrastructure for both access to and security of cartographic collections. This is especially true of maps in books, where it has been historically difficult to collate everything in books. However, maps are increasingly collectible and even 20th century road maps are now at risk

Edward James Redmond (Library of Congress Geography and Map Division)
The internal circulation of cartographic items at Library of Congress in 2006 numbered some 55,000, in response to 16,000 different reference queries. Since 1999, readers must have a registration card, for which they must present a photo ID, and the card must be presented in the reading room. Everyone who enters the reading room is recorded via the registration card down to the minute. Staff determine what people will see when requests are made for older materials. All rare atlases have been microfilmed and these surrogates are to be consulted in the first instance. Facsimiles are offered as the second step, and only as the last resort are original materials available for consultation. A maximum of five items at one time are brought to the security enclosure in the reading room, although readers may only consult items one at a time. Materials from the rare and general collections never meet, and so readers are no longer permitted to compare rare items to other rare items or to modern items. In addition, staff may decide to sit with the reader on occasion to supervise use. Staff feel it is important for readers to know they are not alone with rare items, and there is always at least one staff member in the room at all times. The control of access to the entire building is good, and staff use of swipe cards records when they come into the building, what doors they can use, and all movement is recorded in the access system. They are investigating a system to use barcodes on all collection items in order to produce an electronic record of all items accessed, by whom and when, etc, and including staff and processing activities. The record of such a system would only be available to staff, and in varying detail according to the level of staff.

Alice C. Hudson (New York Public Library Map Division)
A recent security audit of the Map Division’s reading room was done using graduate library school students from a class that Alice teaches at a local university. The students were asked to walk around on their own for thirty minutes and then to report any security concerns they noticed, thus giving staff a fresh look at things they may have taken for granted. Amongst the comments:

Thus, Alice concluded that even with only one room and one door, security remains a big issue. Based on the students' security audit, a number of important changes were made, and the library continues to monitor security issues, and makes changes as staff, time and budgets allow. The audit was seen as a useful fresh look at the situation, and a positive step.

Top of page

Rob Lopresti (Western Washington University)
A sad story was recounted about a recent theft in the government documents department of the general library of this state school. On February 21, 2006, the day after a long Presidents Day weekend when the library had limited staff on duty, extensive damage was found to have been done to the 2500-volume Congressional Serial Set. The first indication was the many shelves found to have volumes out of order and upside down. Eighty-nine volumes were vandalized, with pages around the stolen items also cut out in the thief’s hurry, and at least 426 pages missing. About 4% cannot be identified, 74% were maps and 22% were prints, photographs and other illustrations. The stolen items cover a wide variety of subjects and a long period of publication, with the 1830s, 1880s and 1900s the most popular decades. The police were notified and the crime scene was investigated for evidence, but unfortunately the cleaning crew had been through and had swept up most of the evidence. In assessing the collection for damage, the staff had to borrow a copy of Donna Koepp’s cartobibliography of the Serial Set. Other libraries on campus and in the county were notified, and staff published and distributed several editions of "complete" lists, as further discoveries were made. They also notified dealers and the various discussion lists.

Rob’s closing advice included a stern warning that keeping quiet about theft is like sleeping with the enemy. He suggested that librarians check to see if their volumes are damaged; to consider locking up their more vulnerable materials (although no one likes that idea); stamp vulnerable items; do a security audit; and most of all, don’t keep quiet if something is stolen, because police are less interested if there is only one victim, and hard to persuade that if the theft is from a library there are potentially thousands of victims over time.

Top of page

Chris Schmeisser (Assistant US Attorney General and prosecutor in the Forbes Smiley case)
Chris began with the caveat that the remarks he was about to make were solely his own and did not reflect the opinions of the Justice Department. He then told the story of the two hikers who came upon a bear in the woods. One hiker began to move away cautiously while the other sat down to tie his shoes. The first hiker said to the second "You don’t think you can outrun the bear, do you?" to which the second replied "No, I just have to outrun you." Libraries want to create the impression that it’s too difficult to steal from their library, so that potential thieves will go somewhere else. E. Forbes Smiley III stole one hundred rare maps from a number of libraries, showing that the concern is not so much with the possibility of thieves breaking into libraries and figuring out what to steal, but more with those people who are familiar to librarians and who have the knowledge of the marketplace and can determine what would be best to steal for profit. Maps that are rare but not too uncommon are easier to sell.

The most important thing for libraries to do is to keep the maps from going out the door in the first place, because it is difficult to get them back once they are out of the building. Chris suggested doing a security audit such as the one described by Alice Hudson, walking into your reading room and thinking about what you would have to do in order to steal something. Federal officials asked Smiley what he would do to improve security for maps in libraries, and the officials came away with the following advice. Create a sense that puts fear into potential thieves that they will be caught if they attempt to steal from your library, for instance that a guard might ask about something being taken out of the room. Protecting even a core of high risk materials will spill over to protect other materials. Limit what users can wear into the reading room (no trench coats, for example) and make them open up laptops to be sure the haven’t slipped a small map into them. Smiley used the "wet string" method or an Xacto knife to remove maps from books in order not to make noise, and then held removed objects under the table in order to conceal them on his person; thus, the use of clear glass table tops for rare materials provides less chance to hide what is being done. CCTV is a deterrent, but it’s even better if the system is working rather than just "dummy" cameras, although a number of cameras are needed in order to make out what is happening clearly enough for police use.

Once the item is out of the library the difficulty in recovering it is tremendous. Items stolen are not likely to be things so rare that they can only be privately exhibited, for example the Mona Lisa or The Scream, so they are likely to go into circulation making recovery even more difficult. Having digital surrogates of stolen items is "huge," as, even after Smiley admitted stealing a map, libraries argued over the ownership, citing tears in the paper, worm holes, etc. But Smiley had changed the edgings on maps (to draw attention away from edges he had cut), bleached out ownership stamps or cut them out if they were near an edge. Microfilm copies are better than nothing but digital images allow the finer detail to be seen, as it’s difficult to cover or remove every identifying mark. [However, several members of the audience later said that digital surrogates don’t always show enough detail.] Smiley also suggested digital fingerprinting of the maps.

Chris then outlined the Smiley case and offered comments. On 8 June 2005 Smiley was apprehended by New Haven police after leaving Yale’s Beinecke Library with maps he claimed at first were his. With the help of a young and enthusiastic FBI agent, who learned a lot about antiquarian maps in the course of the investigation, prosecutors were able to convince Smiley’s defence early on that they had plenty of evidence to convict him of stealing a few maps. An e-mail was sent internationally to libraries to ask them to see if Smiley had visited them, as there were not a lot of people ‘researching’ Smiley’s area of interest. Prosecutors told the defence, whom they knew had done a lot of research and they hoped would be willing to negotiate, that the prosecution would identify a universe of maps that Smiley had consulted in order to prove a broader case for the sentencing. There was a strong sense of betrayal of the trust that Smiley had been given amongst the various libraries. There is a lot of scepticism that Smiley has been truthful about what he admits to stealing, and Chris said it was hard to know which maps in Smiley’s possession were stolen and which were legitimately acquired. Subpoenas were issued and searches carried out. Lists of missing maps in items that Smiley had consulted were compiled from the responses of libraries, and Smiley’s attorney compiled a list of items that he admitted stealing. The institutions and the defence were not aware of each other’s lists. At first there were more maps on Smiley’s list than on the libraries’ list, and when the libraries double checked they found more missing items. Eventually, the lists were close to matching, and this gave the prosecution comfort on the level of cooperation by Smiley. Smiley blamed poor cataloguing, saying that it had been done by people not familiar with maps, and often included copy cataloguing using records for books which included a map while the copy in hand did not have the map. The prosecution felt that the defence could have done a lot with the cataloguing issue had Smiley not cooperated. In all, 96 of 100 maps were recovered.

The prosecutors know that the libraries are not convinced that Smiley has admitted to all he stole, and that there is also concern about the sentence Smiley received. According to the 1987 Federal Sentencing Guidelines, there is a formula which takes into account the amount of loss which could be proven without the defendant’s cooperation and the nature of the evidence against him. This resulted in a sentence of 57-71 months, which the judge reduced to 42 months as it was felt that the longer sentence would be appropriate for someone who had not cooperated, while Smiley had. Chris offered to work with the Federal sentencing authorities to have the minimum sentence increased.

Top of page

David Cobb’s summary
The outcomes of the Smiley case are that someone was fired, someone resigned, libraries were paying more attention to the security issues surrounding maps, and the CCTV cameras were now on. Renovations were being made in map reading rooms, but security can always be improved. Map curators need to talk with administrators and tell them what resources are needed. Access may need to be restricted, and inventories should be done. Security guidelines are being created by < http://www.ala.org/ala/mgrps/rts/magert/MapSecurityGuidelines2007.pdf > MAGERT and are soon to be published. Map people need to work more closely with rare book people on the full description of books which include maps; it may be hard for rare book people to accept that the map may be worth more than the volume from which it comes.

Top of page

In reply to a question, Ed Redmond confirmed that the barcodes would be placed on the housing or container of rare items and not on the items themselves. Alice Hudson suggested investigating Microstamping, which can be seen with proper equipment. In response to a suggestion that catalogue records state that a map has special security attached to it, the panel disagreed, saying this was too much information for public consumption. They suggested instead that literature about the collection, reading room or library state more vaguely that security measures were in place. Chris Schmeisser agreed with this, although he also suggested that making a digital image of the item might be faster than various marking mechanisms and would be more useful if the item was stolen.

Asked about the reaction from dealers and collectors who may have unwittingly acquired stolen goods from Smiley, Chris explained the "replevin" laws (which may vary from state to state) and which allow that a thief cannot pass title on stolen goods. His experience has been that most collectors do not want stolen objects, as they will eventually go back to the rightful owners (either sooner or later, and later usually incurs costs), although they want to be reimbursed for what they paid. There was a brief discussion of whether dealers carry insurance against this sort of thing, which came to no conclusions.

In reply to comments about the length of Smiley’s sentence, clearly felt to be too short, Chris offered that in fact it was longer than previous guidelines would have required.

Top of page

For a brief, official report, see < http://www.ala.org/ala/mgrps/rts/magert/librarysecurityformaps/libsec.cfm > 'Library Security for Maps: 2007 Conference Program and Guidelines', by Jenny Marie Johnson, Janet B. Dixon, David A. Cobb, Co-chairs of MAGERT Task Force on Library Security for Cartography Resources, July 2007
HOME (main menu)  |  Thefts menu  |  Index   |   Sitemap   |   What this site is about   |   What's New

eXTReMe Tracker