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.

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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.

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.