Updates on the Forbes Smiley Case
What is to be done? Much discussion over on MapHist about what the Forbes Smiley arrest can teach us about map security, with suggestions about how to tighten security in map collections, such as CCTV, limiting what can be taken into a rare books room, and physically checking the books upon their return — even weighing them to discover if pages have been removed. Much discussion, too, about the practical and logistical challenges of these suggestions.
In that vein, Tony Campbell has a page about the Forbes Smiley case that puts forward some proposals. He also highlights a serious, and to my mind, overlooked, problem about map theft: rare maps aren’t always in atlases, and they aren’t always under the care of map specialists.
The problem is that there is a mismatch of knowledge between a specialist thief and the generalist rare book librarian responsible for curating the volumes he targets. Most maps were published in collections (atlases), which are normally kept in a map library. There, their financial value and hence vulnerability is fully understood. However, the rare maps of North America mentioned in this case (with cited individual values up to $500,000) illustrate printed books. A specialist thief, who has done his homework among the bibliographies, dealers’ catalogues and union lists of library holdings, knows the location and value of such highly saleable maps. It is hardly surprising that few generalist rare books curators will be aware of the easily removed maps dotted among many thousands of volumes in their care.
News coverage: The Harvard Crimson reports that Harvard librarians have not yet finished their inventory to determine whether any maps are missing. (While Smiley’s next hearing is scheduled for October 3, it’s likely we’ll hear more in the meantime if other maps turn up missing.) Lillian Thomas’s article for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (also reprinted here) details the ease with which maps can be stolen and the difficulty in tracing and preventing thefts; it’s a good introduction to the problem of map theft. Antiques publications are covering this story as well: see the Maine Antique Digest and Antiques and the Arts Online. Via, as always, Tony’s list of news stories.