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Archive for Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Rare books at KU’s Watson Library targeted by vandals

Lea Currie, head of collection development for KU libraries, displays a copy of a book from the Watson Library collection that was stripped of several pages. The folio book was on the archeology of Delphi, one of the most important sites of ancient Greece.

Lea Currie, head of collection development for KU libraries, displays a copy of a book from the Watson Library collection that was stripped of several pages. The folio book was on the archeology of Delphi, one of the most important sites of ancient Greece.

June 9, 2009

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Capt. Schuyler Bailey, KU Public Safety Office spokesman, asked anyone with information about the thefts to call the KU Public Safety Office, 864-5900, or KU Crime Stoppers, 864-8888.

Vandals hit KU's Watson Library

Police are investigating a series of thefts from KU's Watson Library. Enlarge video

Thieves are ripping off Kansas University’s Watson Library, tearing apart books filled with old and expensive artwork, taking what’s valuable and leaving destruction behind.

Thousands of dollars worth of expensive pages have been cut apart and stolen from rare books dating to the early 1800s, their bindings and remnants left sprinkled in unusual spaces throughout the library.

“It’s really unfortunate and incredibly rare that something like this would happen,” said Rebecca Smith, library spokeswoman.

The thefts began May 28, when two books — valued at $3,700 by the library — were damaged and parts of them stolen. The books, or large folios, contained expensive plates of unique artwork and archaeological drawings, said Lea Currie, head of collection development for KU libraries.

Police reports said four other books from the early 1800s and 1900s were damaged between 5 a.m. Sunday and 10 a.m. Monday, at a loss of $1,347.

Pages from one old book were sliced. Its binding was found in a main floor women’s restroom, Smith said. Another vandalized book was found on a fourth-floor bench, she said.

Most of KU’s valuable books are stored in the library annex, 1880 Westbrooke St., or Spencer Research Library, 1450 Poplar Lane, where they aren’t as easily accessible by the public.

“It’s a fine balance between ensuring the safety and preservation of these books and making these collections accessible,” Smith said. “We have very expansive procedures in place to ensure the safety of these books.”

KU recently moved more than 800,000 valuable books to a space that’s closed to the public, Smith said. And now, library officials will determine whether more books must be moved to safekeeping.

At the same time, Smith said, the library will determine whether security can be increased.

Comments

onceinawhile 5 years, 6 months ago

"Police reports said four other books from the early 1800s and 1900s were damaged between 5 a.m. Sunday and 10 a.m. Monday."

Was the library even open at that time? I don't believe so.

rdave13 5 years, 6 months ago

compmd:

I think you summed it all up very well....what thrill/gain/goal could be accomplished.

Cappy: I agree...hopefully they could narrow this down if the stmnt is correct.

Thinking_Out_Loud 5 years, 6 months ago

onceinawhile, I suspect the library was open Sunday afternoon and at least into the early evening.

George_Braziller 5 years, 6 months ago

The goal is economic. A single page can be sold for big bucks depending on many things including what historic information is on the page, if there is an illustration, or if it comes from a specific significant publication. Even mundane antique black and white prints can sell for a good price. Unfortunately when someone wants to make a quick dollar they destroy the entire document and rob others of experiencing the original.


"I think you summed it all up very well….what thrill/gain/goal could be accomplished."

KU_cynic 5 years, 6 months ago

Pretty sure that KU students aren't responsible, as the typical student never sees the inside of the library except at freshman orientation.

vega 5 years, 6 months ago

Why were rare books even in the shelves for everybody to get hold of them? Rare and antique books are normally handled by librarians who provide access to the book to the interested party. This is outrageous, the damage is much greater than just $$ value of the books

KLATTU 5 years, 6 months ago

Get some student intern working on scanning these books so people can access the information without handling the valuable book.

GSWtotheheart 5 years, 6 months ago

ask for a driver's license and don't give it back until you've checked the book back in and verified it hasn't been tampered with

Joel Hood 5 years, 6 months ago

KU_cynic (Anonymous) says… "Pretty sure that KU students aren't responsible, as the typical student never sees the inside of the library except at freshman orientation." ======================= What??? How would you define the "typical" KU student? Please enlighten the rest of us.

seriouscat 5 years, 6 months ago

I hope those responsible get busted and prosecuted for grand theft!

Melissa Kounelaki 5 years, 6 months ago

GSW-- These books aren't checked out or in a secure library like the Spencer. They're just in the open stacks. Maybe now some of them will be secured as they should have been before.

Janet Lowther 5 years, 6 months ago

Why? A lot of old books contain plates which have value as art.

Don't tell me you have never seen a roughly book size print matted and framed at an antique store? Many of these still carry captions.

Now, of course, most of 'em come out of books of no long term value, but the market does exist.

I'm with Klattu: The library should be scanning it's vast collection of books which have entered the public domain, or at least scanning the ones which other libraries haven't scanned and put on line yet. Maybe they can even get a grant for doing so. (Hello, Google?)

ndmoderate 5 years, 6 months ago

“We have very expansive procedures in place to ensure the safety of these books.”

Um, apparently not.

gccs14r 5 years, 6 months ago

Unfortunately, scanning books is neither free nor easy.

KansasVoter 5 years, 6 months ago

Scanning books is inexpensive and very easy. They've already got students working at the library, so the cheap labor is already there, and scanners don't cost very much at all these days.

verity 5 years, 6 months ago

When I wanted to photograph some old journals at another state university for a class project, I was locked into a room with them. The room had inside windows so I could be observed at all times from the main library. This was 30 years ago,

Sounds like some of these books and portfolios are still open to the general public?

christie 5 years, 6 months ago

Scanners that scan these types of materials are very expensive. These aren't $49.00 scanners folks. More like $50,000.

This sounds like an inside job by a disgruntled employee. Only they would know the ins/outs of the systems there to get in/out without being noticed or drawing concern.

Jillster 5 years, 6 months ago

Scanning books isn't going to solve this particular problem...the books are being vandalized because the original prints from these rare books are valuable to collectors. The buyers of the vandalized pages want the original art from the books on the original paper, they don't want a scan.

And it doesn't take a disgruntled employee with inside access to do something like this...just someone who knows what people will pay for, and where to find it. There are plenty of quiet, unpopulated places in Watson Library where vandalism like this can be performed without anyone's knowledge. Just cut apart the book, tuck the valuable pages in a notebook, put the notebook in a backpack, and out the door you go. Nothing special required, although the fact that the remains of the destroyed book are left where library employees can find them does make it sound like whomever is doing this wants to upset people as well as make a fast buck.

Kyle Reed 5 years, 6 months ago

I think you're missing the point on the scanning Jillster...it's to make the contents of the book available without the actual rare book being handled by the individual. Basically you can't steal/destroy what you can't get your hands on.

Jillster 5 years, 6 months ago

Let me explain myself better...the scan isn't going to generate as much interest of the actual item, and why spend money to scan books (student wages, equipment, data storage, etc.) when the legitimate demand for those items is so very, very low? In terms of preservation, it's brilliant (if the item can be scanned without damage), but in terms of a tight university budget, it's not practical.

The solution isn't scanning...it's locking the books away and requiring ID for access, along with complete inspections upon both checkout and return.

Leslie Swearingen 5 years, 6 months ago

I have to go with Jillster on this. There are people who have a legitimate need to see the original documents. Anyone see Angels and Demons? After an incident someone stood over his shoulder when he was researching in the Vatican archive. I know, she did it. But, all the same. Imagine being able to create something that others will marvel at a thousand years from now.

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