An interesting story in the Guardian a few days ago highlights the criminal foolishness of the British Library policies. These prohibit legitimate readers from photographing pages.
A Cambridge graduate who stole more than £1m worth of rare books during his career as a professional book thief was today found guilty of stealing £40,000’s worth of books from a celebrated library.
William Jacques, nicknamed “Tome Raider” after stealing hundreds of rare books in the late 1990s, drew up a “thief’s shopping list”, targeting the most expensive books that he could access.
He used a false name to sign in to the Royal Horticultural Society’s Lindley library in London before hiding valuable books under his tweed jacket, Southwark Crown Court was told.
Detective Constable Paul Howitt said Jacques, the son of a farmer from Selby, North Yorkshire, was an “extremely arrogant man, a very greedy man who was obsessed by money” and was “responsible for the biggest ever raid of our leading libraries”.
The Cambridge graduate began selling stolen books at auction houses in the late 90s. The haul that led to his previous conviction, some 500 rare antiquarian books and pamphlets from the British Library, Cambridge University Library and the London Library, was one of the biggest of its kind in British legal history, and many of the works were damaged in an attempt to disguise their origins.
Jacques was jailed for four years in May 2002 by a judge at Middlesex Guildhall Crown Court for 21 counts of theft. He now faces a similar time in jail after his most recent offences.
Libraries cannot be secure unless they stop being libraries and turn into vaults. It is of the highest importance to record the holdings of all our libraries, and especially of unique items. Any long-established collection contains items that once belonged elsewhere. Indeed medieval manuscripts travel more widely than all but a few of us! They flit around like bumble-bees.
Any library that believes that preserving the collection means preventing photography is criminally negligent. Instead it should manage such a process.