Following thefts, libraries stay on guard

Although the case of serial map thief Edward Forbes Smiley III will end this Wednesday in New Haven with his sentencing, it has continued to prompt libraries across the globe to take extra security measures to protect their rare collections.

An experienced and high-profile map dealer, Smiley raided libraries worldwide and escaped with 97 maps before being caught in the act at Yale’s Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library last year. Among the pieces taken from Beinecke was a 1614 map drawn by the founder of Virginia’s Jamestown colony, Captain John Smith, valued at approximately $50,000 according to the warrant for Smiley’s arrest. In an appraisal by private dealer and Beinecke adviser William Reese ’77 immediately following Smiley’s arrest, the seven maps found on his person were valued at approximately $878,000 in total.

Librarians at major libraries in Cambridge, New York, London and New Haven said that while they have increased security at their respective institutions since Smiley’s arrest, the damage he did — including the shadow his exposure has cast on the map-dealing community — cannot be easily reversed.

“The general consensus is one of shock and dismay,” said Beth Brainard, a spokeswoman for the Houghton Library at Harvard.

While librarians declined to discuss the specifics of new security measures, they said security has been tightened.

“As a result of looking carefully at our system, we’ve enhanced the security measures,” said Alice Prochaska, the head librarian at Yale. “But it wouldn’t be security if I told you what they were.”

One institution Smiley did not touch was Princeton. But John Delaney, the curator of the Historical Map collection at the university, said the thefts have prompted him to keep more rigorous records.

“We’ve been very careful in having maps catalogued in the records with details on what they actually show, rather than just having them say ‘map,’” he said.

Catriona Finlayson, an employee at the Map Collection at the British Library, said in an e-mail that the library is asking for a harsh sentence for Smiley, who currently faces up to 71 months in federal prison.

“The British Library will be arguing for what is called upward departure from the sentencing guidelines in order to ensure that an appropriately long period of imprisonment is meted out to Smiley to be commensurate with his crimes and to deter other serial thieves,” Finlayson wrote.

Prochaska said she also hopes Smiley’s case will set an example.

“I think we would all agree with that,” she said. “We are all very anxious that future thieves know that the courts take it extremely seriously.”

Finlayson said the British Library’s lawyers have written a legal summary to the U.S. government, which states that “the harm caused by Smiley transcends monetary loss. Objects significant to British, American and world heritage have an intrinsic value beyond the monetary worth set in the commercial market.”

Prochaska said she agrees completely with this assessment. She said crimes like those committed by Smiley endanger historical records and the cultural heritage of the world.

Brainard said Smiley’s actions have forced all librarians to question the integrity of the people accessing their materials.

“There has to be a certain amount of trust involved,” she said. “When someone like Smiley breaches that trust it makes it harder for librarians to do their job. Do you say we’ll just digitize everything and miss some of the richness of dealing with primary sources? Assume you’re going to be burned?”

Though Smiley has been caught, there are still maps missing from many libraries. The British Library is looking for several items, including two 17th-century maps of North America and a 16th-century world map. While Prochaska said some of Yale’s collection has been recovered, she does not know if the University will ever find all of the stolen maps, including those taken by thieves other than Smiley.

“That’s a really sad story,” she said.

Smiley, a veteran dealer of rare maps, was initially arrested in 2005 after authorities found an X-acto knife on the floor of the Beinecke reading room and connected the dots back to him. Smiley later admitted to stealing maps from at least six libraries.

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