Rare Book Monthly
Articles - August - 2005 Issue
30,000 Books Missing From French National Library
Traditionally, many libraries have been fairly lax with their security. There has tended to be something of an assumption that the respectable-looking people who come into the rare book rooms of libraries are what they appear. Even those with such precautions as security cameras do not necessarily closely examine what the cameras reveal. A map stolen from a book may not come to light until years later. Who can spend years viewing security tapes to find the day when that map was removed? Besides which, many of these tapes are on a repeating coil, so after a couple of weeks, the records on the tapes are erased and replaced by new ones. All evidence may be long gone.
Sadly, greater security requires more effort by the library and greater inconvenience to the patron. Digitization of old books can help alleviate this problem. If scholars can read the texts without actually handling the books, fake scholars won't be able to get their hands on them either. However, there are times when researchers will need access to the physical books themselves, and unfortunately, this is going to have to become more difficult. It's like flying. Circumstances have forced flying to become a more difficult, time-consuming, and invasive procedure than it used to be. Welcome to the 21st century.