Librarians say more maps are missing

A month after a notorious thief admitted to stealing five antique maps from Yale, librarians said they recently discovered that 78 more rare maps are missing from the University’s collection.


The missing titles, identified in an inventory taken over the winter, were privately released to members of the map-trading community last week. University Librarian Alice Prochaska said the thefts occurred over many years and seem unrelated to the case against Edward Forbes Smiley III, who was caught raiding the Beinecke Library last July.


Library officials said their staff inventoried Sterling Memorial Library?s entire collection — comprising about 300,000 maps — in the wake of the Smiley scandal.


“There have been times during the last year when we thought it might be even worse than it was,” Prochaska said. “But if you had told me in June 2005 that we would have had this number of missing maps, I would have been appalled.”


The maps date as far back as 1562 and were authored by some of history’s most famous cartographers, including Gerardus Mercator and James Cook. Officials declined to comment on the value of the maps because the University is in the process of filing an insurance claim to recover some of the damages.


Associate University Librarian Danuta Nitecki said Yale has been strengthening its map security over the last few years in response to events on campus and on the national level. The measures include different locks, added surveillance, and new procedures for viewing the materials.


“We are putting greater priority on security than we have in the past,” Nitecki said.


The library has also retained a new interim map curator since July 1.


The three-month map inventory consumed 1,400 hours of staff time and was the most comprehensive in recent memory, Nitecki said. Librarians did not discover the problem earlier in part because the collection has been too underfunded to devote its staff to a full inventory, Prochaska said. The University now is planning a major fundraising campaign, making it important to ascertain the collection’s status.


Roger Baskes, president of the International Map Collectors Society, said Yale could have mitigated its losses by keeping better track of its material in the past.


“If there were proper inventories and catalogs of maps, there would be much less theft,” he said.


But Baskes lauded Yale for sharing the missing titles with other librarians, collectors, museums and dealers in the map trade. Historically, he said, some have felt that universities were reluctant to disclose details about thefts.


“There was speculation that if there were a wide belief that the materials were not secured, it might be difficult to get more,” Baskes said. “Yale has taken the lead in a very admirable way by taking an inventory and posting what they’re missing.”


The renewed campaign to improve the collection has already resulted in a generous funding pledge and a gift of rare maps from a Yale alumnus, Prochaska said, so she is optimistic that the effort will be successful despite the theft disclosure. More details about the drive are expected shortly.


Nitecki said the inventory disclosure will help the University recover the stolen maps if they are put up for sale. The information will also alert the map-trading community to thieves who are targeting certain types of material.


The list does not include the maps known to be stolen by Smiley, which are being recovered. Prochaska said she has no reason to believe that the materials missing in the inventory were removed in an operation comparable to Smiley’s.


“We’re not imagining that there was any other big single map theft,” she said. “The maps were taken at different times in different ways.”


Smiley, a formerly renowned map dealer, admitted to stealing 97 maps throughout the U.S. and Britain. He faces up to 71 months in federal prison when he is sentenced in September.

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