Thefts from the British Library

An article in the Times today tells us that a reader who used a razor-blade to remove 98  rare maps from books in the British Library and other libraries has been jailed for three years and fined one million pounds (around $2m).  The maps, we are told, were then sold to dealers and collectors.  He was found with 7 maps, alone worth around $1m.  US readers will be amused to learn that the reader will be released automatically after a year, unless he annoys the turnkeys, and in any event after two.  The Library officials are said to be furious at the leniency of the sentence. 

The story has many interesting aspects.  The weak sentence means that it is now open season on the collections of British Libraries.  Many will consider the possibility of becoming a multi-millionaire well worth the chance of a year in conditions not markedly worse than a boys’ boarding school.  Fortunately the number of criminals equipped to sell the items must be limited. 

The Times report glosses over the motive, which is said to be “resentment” of the library.  I wonder what the nature of his resentment was.  Could it possibly be that, like so many other readers, he was tired of being robbed blind in charges for reproductions of material that he wished to examine?

2 Responses to “Thefts from the British Library”


  1. Kevin P. Edgecomb

    From another article (last week in the Times, I think), it was made clear that the accused actually is a collector, who had provided the library with better maps than the ones he’d taken. Even stranger!

  2. Roger Pearse

    Thank you for this extra information. Clearly we are not getting the whole story here. Obviously collections should not be given the razor blade treatment.

    Libraries that get greedy about reproductions do suffer damage, and this is why I wonder whether this has something to do with it. I remember being forced to pay $30 for a photocopy of an A3 fold-out sheet in a (modern) book in the Bodleian. I still remember the grins of the staff, as I protested at this nonsense. I also remember looking in the book on a subsequent visit, to find that someone else had simply detached the sheet. I drew the attention of the library to this, but at time of writing they have never replaced the volume.

    I read this week that the BL wanted their reader to be imprisoned for 10 years. This seems a lot. What is called a “life” sentence is only 25 years even in theory, most murderers in the UK are released after 11 years. The fury of minor bureaucrats is a curious thing to watch.