In Kentucky, Libraries Tightening Security as Thefts Rise

With stronger interest and monetary value on antiquities, libraries increasingly become targets


"There is a tension between use and preservation," said Bill Marshall, curator of manuscripts at UK.

At Morehead State University, the viewing area for the special collections is in a public area so that more than one librarian can watch to see if someone is stealing, said Clara B. Potter, a Morehead librarian.

At the University of Louisville, a list of the library's special collections is available online and in a paper catalog. The library has no plans to change that policy any time soon, said James Anderson, a curator of photographic archives at U of L.

"We're still open to the public, but we have more security measures in place, such as a librarian would never be alone with someone that is looking at something of value," Anderson said.

Centre's Campbell says the growth of the Internet is, in the words of William Blake, "the marriage of heaven and hell" for libraries.

Like U of L, Centre has its special collections listed online. He thinks that's how the thief found out about the American Indian lithographs. On the other hand, the library was able to track down the stolen items by alerting antiquarian experts through Internet mailing lists.

"It's an interesting paradox," Campbell said.

Stevan Layne, a security consultant who runs workshops for national museum and library associations and advises institutions such as the Speed Museum in Louisville, said making an institution's holdings public is not a problem. What matters is the type of security a library or institution employs.

Layne stresses thoroughly vetting those who view valuable items. Librarians should also screen all packages, book bags and other material when someone leaves a special collections area, he said.

Eileen Brady, a librarian at Washington State University who lectures around the country on library security, says librarians tend to be "ostriches" about crime.

"Part of the problem is that we have a culture of thinking that nothing ever happens in libraries," Brady said.

"Things are improving, but not enough -- higher education is facing budget shortfalls, and libraries aren't getting as much money as they used to."

Brady's institution was the victim of Steven Blumberg, one of the most prolific book thieves in history. Blumberg stole $20 million in books and documents from more than 300 libraries and museums in the 1980s.

A donor offered to buy the facility new electronic security equipment after the thefts were discovered, Brady said.

In the Louisville case that came to light last week, the Filson's video monitors picked up Donald E. Eckard, a 70-year-old advertising executive, taking items from the historical society's collection. Richard H.C. Clay, the Filson's lawyer, praised Filson's security systems and staff for catching Eckard.

Most book thieves operate like Eckard, quietly stealing valuable sketches, maps and letters over time. What shocked librarians about the Transylvania theft was the physical assault on special collections librarian B.J. Gooch, who was incapacitated with a stun gun and then tied up.

During this week's sentencing hearing for the four thieves -- Stephen Reinhard, Eric Borsuk, Charles Allen II and Warren Lipka -- Gooch told a federal judge that the scars from her assault are still fresh and deep. Her terror was felt by her colleagues at other institutions.

The Transylvania case "combined the most frightening elements of blue-collar crime with white-collar library crime," said Miles Harvey, an author of a book about a famous map thief. "It was a like a 7-11 knock-off with armed assailants while taking cultural artifacts."