Above is Forbes Smiley. In 2006 he was caught at Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library at Yale University because the reading room monitor saw an X-Acto knife blade on the floor next to his table. Mr. Smiley was videotaped while removing a map from a 17th Century atlas with the knife and when stopped by the police upon leaving the library was found with maps in his jacket and in his briefcase which totaled up to $850,000 in value. While he was caught at Yale, he had hit many libraries and archives before then and we may never know the full extent of the damage he caused.
It's an old story, but one of enduring alarm. This week, the FBI and the National Archives, which cooperated in a massive theft investigation, are returning more than 10,000 stolen documents. Barry Landau and his associate Jason Savedoff were stealing materials related to presidential history from various historical societies; their last stop was the Maryland Historical Society. In this case, unlike others like Smiley's, Landau and Savedoff pleaded guilty. Because the men were collectors themselves and not dealers, it appears as though all of the materials were still in his apartment. At least 24 victims of the theft have been identified, and the FBI and the National Archives are returning the historical documents.
In this case, we can breathe a sigh of relief that the materials didn't scatter far and wide before discovery of theft. However, the recurring theme of archival theft does leave us some rather troubling questions. How will we combat this crime in the digital age? And how could we better promote our services to receive better protection and greater backing from authorities proactively rather than reactively?