Two months after an antique map dealer was sentenced to three-and-a-half years in federal prison for stealing millions of dollars worth of rare maps, including 20 from Yale, the University is preparing a series of new library security measures.
The Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library — where E. Forbes Smiley III’s thefts were first discovered in June 2005 — will beef up security after three reviews conducted this semester, library administrators said. A separate security assessment of the full library system wrapped up in June, and administrators said they are now considering its recommendations. The Smiley case has also served as a catalyst for change beyond Yale, as libraries across the world are increasingly publicizing thefts that previously would have been kept quiet.
Smiley’s thefts are not the most recent at Beinecke. An 1890 letter by “Alice in Wonderland” author Lewis Carroll that was part of Beinecke’s holdings — which include 26 handwritten letters from Carroll, the pen name of Charles Dodgson, turned up on eBay earlier this year, the Hartford Courant reported Sunday. A collector in Utah had purchased the letter, and he returned it to Yale after hearing it belonged to the University.
University Librarian Alice Prochaska said the incidents have led the administration to fill the gaps in the security system.
“It’s not that there were no precautions over the years, but whenever there’s an event like this, it makes the organization that was affected by the crime look at how to prevent it from happening again,” she said.
The security procedures at Beinecke were studied in two reviews by external security experts, Frank Turner, the library’s director, said. The University also conducted an internal review.
Based on these groups’ recommendations, the library’s reading rooms will now be videotaped at all times, Turner said. Video cameras were in place but not on when a Beinecke librarian first noticed an X-acto knife blade left by Smiley on the reading room floor, according to a June 2005 Yale Police Department affidavit. In addition, Turner said, the library plans to install a new, more extensive camera system.
The library will also expand its manuscript cataloguing unit, which will allow it to keep better track of its holdings. Turner said the unit will nearly double in size in an effort to alleviate the backlog of uncataloged materials.
Last winter, the Sterling and Beinecke libraries inventoried their collection of more than 300,000 maps and found 78 maps missing beyond those Smiley is known to have stolen. Prochaska said most of the maps Smiley took have been recovered, and a few of the additional maps thought to be missing have turned up elsewhere in the library system.
“Some of the materials have turned out not to be stolen at all, but misplaced,” she said.
Still, the vast majority of the 78 maps remain missing, Prochaska said.
Besides cataloguing the rare maps, University libraries have taken a close look at procedures across the system. A security committee composed of representatives from the libraries and art galleries was set up last fall and reported its recommendations last February. It then conducted a physical audit of the University’s collections that ended in June.
The committee’s suggestions included establishing clear lines of communication for reporting suspicious behavior and keeping exact records of who has seen specific rare materials.
“For the most part we have [kept such records], but we make sure we’re broadening the scope to include more collections,” Prochaska said.
The full set of recommendations will not be implemented until the University-wide review of security procedures is complete and related costs have been determined, she said.
Research libraries often make changes to physical security measures after a major theft, said Richard Oram, chair of the security committee of the Rare Books and Manuscripts Section of the American Library Association. Planned renovations to reading rooms are also opportunities to add cameras, key cards and other theft prevention systems, but these improvements are costly, he said.
“All libraries are strapped for cash,” Oram said. “Sometimes security is low on the priority list.”
Libraries are becoming more likely to publicize thefts than ever before, Everett Wilkie, former chair of the ALA security committee, said.
“Libraries don’t try to cover it up like they used to,” Wilkie said. “The embarrassment of having a theft has been overridden by the need to stop these people.”
Prochaska said Yale was the one of the first libraries victimized by Smiley to publish a list of missing maps — which was sent to private dealers and posted online — and other libraries have followed suit. Making thefts known is now considered a good practice, she said, and dealers and collectors have a place to look to verify that the items they purchase are not missing from a library’s holdings.
But some said libraries could do more to discourage theft, such as displaying reproductions rather than making the originals available.
“There’s no reason for people to see the rare materials,” map dealer W. Graham Arader III ’73 said. “It should just not be available for people to hurt or steal.”