Why People Steal Rare Books
“Book theft is very hard to quantify because very often pages are cut and it’s not noticed for years,” says Rapley. “Often we come across pages from books [in hauls of recovered property] and we work back from there.” The Museum Security Network, a Dutch-based, not-for-profit organisation devoted to co-ordinating efforts to combat this type of theft, estimates that only 2 to 5 per cent of stolen books are recovered, compared with about half of stolen paintings.
“Books are extremely difficult to identify,” Rapley continues. “That means they can be sold commercially at near to market value rather than black-market value.” Thieves know that single pages cut from books to be sold as prints are easier to steal and even harder to trace, so they are often even more desirable than books themselves.
Most thieves simply cut out pages with razor blades and then hide them about their person. High bookshelves, quiet stacks or storage areas, or any lavatories located within reading rooms, are obvious places for such nefarious activities.
Regular users will have noticed that libraries have tightened up security in recent years. Among the strategies employed are CCTV cameras, improved sightlines for librarians, ID and bag checks at entrances and exits, and more floorwalking by security, uniformed or otherwise.