Management of Library and Archival Security: From the Outside Looking In

Valerie J. Nurcombe (Information Services Manager, ISM, Lichfield)

Library Review

ISSN: 0024-2535

Article publication date: 1 April 2000




Nurcombe, V.J. (2000), "Management of Library and Archival Security: From the Outside Looking In", Library Review, Vol. 49 No. 3, pp. 139-156.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

These essays are brought together by R.K. O’Neill, Director of the John J. Burns Library at Boston College, Massachusetts, and formerly of Indiana Historical Society and Indiana State University. As editor he provides a short, two‐page introduction and index to these six diverse essays. They bring together practical and anecdotal advice often in an amusing and light‐hearted way. That on the Irish stones has the compulsive reading style of a detective story – with a clear moral – check, investigate and re‐check: things may not be what they seem or their provenance may not be what is suggested.

Other essays are more down to earth but there are few libraries and collections which have not lost materials through theft, natural disasters or other means. In the modern world new ways have to be found to ensure collections are protected in the best way possible and these essays suggest alternatives by looking at events as well as by examining present practices. Susan M. Allen indicates how to cope with theft and its aftermath. William E. Chadwick considers internal audit of special collections security. Collection security from the preservation perspective is addressed by Beth L. Patkus while protection from theft and damage procedures and policies form the subject matter for Gregor Trinkaus‐Randall. The latter is taken from the point of view of library and archival security overall.

Edward F. Clark shows the FBI angle of law enforcement in the library by considering the collection of 28,000 items found in the possession of Stephen Blumberg in 1990 and valued at $30 million. The problems of the FBI in establishing the theft of the items indicates clearly the problems involved as only 2 percent of libraries contacted knew they had lost items. The FBI had then to establish the case for theft knowing that the collection had not been established legitimately. Robert K. O’Neill himself is the author of the Irish stones interlude which was also well reported in the professional press at the time. Read the story.

The psychology of theft is also investigated by several authors. Why do people steal? How do they do it? Can the systems beat the deliberate thief? Summarising such a broad‐based collection of essays is difficult as many diverse angles appear showing the colossal nature of the problems relating to security. Most libraries are unaware an item is missing until another reader requires it or a full inventory is done. Inventories are time‐consuming and almost impossible in large collections without closures. A missing item may just be misplaced. There is plenty of scope. How is theft established? Other security problems and preservation under threat of fire and flood are easier to establish but potentially more damaging. Internal audit can identify potential risks and possible means to avoid them. There are many suggestions. Although a short text this is a good read for the majority of librarians in large or small collections.

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