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Thefts from libraries is a persistent problem

TheftThomas Jefferson

When I went to work for the Library of Congress in 1977, the stacks were completely open. Members of the staff and the public roamed at will. Thousands of books and other items were lost. I remember being told that when someone on the staff went to look for a copy of Audubon's Birds of America, he discovered that most of the plates were missing. They had been cut out and, presumably, sold separately.

In 1987 James H. Billington was sworn in as the 13th Librarian of Congress. He closed the stacks to the public and to most of the staff. Some of us resented that, but now I think he made the right decision.

Allen Tate, appointed Poet Laureate in 1943, was one of the first to be alarmed about the security of the Library of Congress collections. At that time, Thomas Jefferson's books were in the public stacks. Mr. Tate made it his responsibility to look for them and to separate them for a special collection. Many volumes were missing; they still are.

Thefts from the collections have continued. When cutting instruments (e.g., scissors, razor blades) were banned from the reading rooms, some thieves resorted to a method using dental floss.

We can be grateful that the staff of the Maryland Historical Society ("2 held in documents theft," July 12) was so alert last week. Many thanks!

Sally Craig, Towson

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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