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6.2 Security

Disasters: Can we plan for them? If not, how can we proceed?


By Edmund Berkeley, Jr.

Security is a primary concern of archivists because they are charged with the preservation of those manuscript collections or institutional records that are of enduring value to their employers, whether those employers are large state archives, small private historical societies, business archives, or any of the many other types of modern archival institutions. Allowing valuable holdings to deteriorate - or to be stolen - violates the canon of preservation with which archivists are charged. In recent years, theft has become a major problem for archivists; many institutions, large and small, have suffered thefts, and it seems likely that this trend will continue unless archivists take appropriate steps to reduce the possibilities.

Archival theft has existed as long as man has kept records; in ancient times, one of the spoils of war was frequently the records of the defeated. Dr. Joseph Fields has written:

Ptolemy Philadelphus is supposed to have refused to supply wheat to the starving Athenians, caught in the ravages of a famine, unless he was permitted to borrow the manuscripts of the Greek literary and philosophical giants so that he might have copies made. He is said to have retained the originals and sent the copies back to Athens.

The great library of Alexandria, one of the wonders of the ancient world, was the private library of the ptolemies, and most of its contents had been captured from defeated enemies. Nineteenth-century manuscripts collectors apparently learned from Ptolemy Philadelphus. Many of the great manuscripts collectors of that period simply "borrowed" manuscripts and "forgot" to return them. A number of famous collections now in well-known institutions have very questionable provenances for this reason.

During the past four decades theft from archival institutions has accelerated. Clippings in the files of the Manuscripts Department of the University of Virginia Library tell of many incidents. Philip P. Mason, the archivist most knowledgeable about archival theft, summarized the statistics in an article entitled, "Archival Security: New Solutions to an Old Problem," published in the October, 1975, American Archivist:

During the past decade several hundred archives and libraries have been victimized and many others have been and did not report it. The recent loss of the Felix Frankfurter diaries and papers from the Manuscript Division of the Library of Congress capped a series of thefts from that institution and led to a complete revamping of its security regulations. The thefts of valuable archival materials from the University of Virginia, the Detroit Public Library, North Carolina State Archives, Texas State Archives, Wayne State University, Yale University, Franklin D. Roosevelt Library, Indiana State Library, Ohio Historical Society, Virginia State Archives, State Historical Society of Wisconsin, and the National Archives demonstrate the dimensions of the problem.

Mason also summarizes the reasons for archival theft. He notes that some persons have a strong desire to gain possession of certain manuscripts because they feel that the institution and its employees cannot appreciate the manuscripts as much as they do. Kleptomania and the challenge of beating the security systems figure in other cases. Some thieves want to "borrow" records "temporarily" because having them in their possession will "facilitate" their research. Other thieves desire to purge records by removing them because they contain something damaging to them or their families. And still others remove records because they have some connection with an ancestor.

There are other reasons for archival theft. There is today a large number of highly educated persons who have little or no respect for personal or public property, and who have or know how to acquire the specialized knowledge necessary to steal from archives. Certain thefts are committed by persons who have grievances against the institution or against its employees. And there are a certain number of thefts for which there is no obvious reason, since the material does not appear on the market and is not recovered.

Perhaps the most important reason for archival theft is profit. Philip P. Mason firmly believes that profit is the basic reason for most archival theft, and he has assembled much evidence to support his contention. The thefts in recent years from the North Carolina, Georgia, Texas and California archives were all committed in order to market the stolen documents. Dealer -auctioneer Charles Hamilton has written most engagingly of his own experiences with forgers and thieves in Scribblers and Scoundrels; he has been instrumental in apprehending a number of each.

All collectible items -stamps, silver, gold, art, rare books, manuscripts, and so on-enjoy rising prices in times of prosperity, such as the 1970s. When materials in a field of collecting, such as manuscripts, begin to show a spectacular rate of appreciation, many persons with excess cash enter the collecting field, and some are not ethical. If such speculators learn of items that they want to acquire for their collections and find that they cannot acquire these items legally, they will take other steps to acquire them. The thieves convicted of the theft from the North Carolina archives told state bureau of investigation personnel that manuscripts could be stolen to order.

Prominent manuscripts dealer Kenneth W. Rendell believes that profit is not a major reason for archival theft. He has stated publicly that "only a very small percentage of the stolen material eventually comes onto the market." He is referring to the major market for manuscripts in which he and perhaps five other firms handle about ninety per cent of the business. Stolen manuscripts move in small local markets; the material stolen from the Georgia archives was recovered from an Atlanta flea market. Rendell is critical of archivists for failing to take sufficient steps to protect their holdings from theft, particularly by marking holdings to show ownership. He also faults those archivists and others who will not admit and publicize a theft, for he believes that publicity makes it more difficult for a thief to sell stolen property. Publicity also alerts dealers who might otherwise quite innocently purchase stolen property.

Whatever the reasons, archival theft is flourishing. Every archivist must take steps to protect the holdings of his or her institution and must plan what must be done if a theft is suspected or discovered.

Appended to this article is a lengthy security checklist (Appendix IV). Using such a list is a good way to assess the security of an institution and its archivists' awareness of security problems that it may have. Not all of the questions on the checklist will apply to every institution, but many of them are basic to any archives or manuscripts repository and its operation.

In thinking about the security of an institution, the archivist should remember that its staff is the institution's best security system. Convincing the staff of the necessity for constant awareness of security will do more to improve the level of security provided its records or collections than any amount of money spent on electronic security systems. A good level of security has been achieved when the staff questions everything out of the ordinary, from the furtive patron to the mysterious "buzzing" of a light switch that may mean a loose electrical connection - a potential fire hazard. The staff member who notices a peculiar smell in a stack area, investigates, and finds that the janitor has left a pile of oily rags that are beginning to smoulder will have more than repaid the archivist for the time and effort spent on a security program.

Unfortunately, staff members also pose a considerable security risk to the institution. The staff has access to most security areas in the institution and it is usually easy for its members to remove materials from the building or archives area of the building. Ultimately, considerable faith must be placed in the staff; however, make as many basic checks on new staff members as possible, and establish certain rules that will give a minimum level of security against theft by staff members. Credentials of all new staff members should be checked carefully. Do not permit staff members to collect materials in the same areas in which the institution specializes, as collecting is a mysterious disease that can cause a person to lose normal restraints and can, through conflicts of interest, cause problems for a staff member involved in collecting work for the institution. If possible and affordable, it is a good idea to bond staff members both for performance and surety. A surety bond requires a thorough background check by the bonding agency, and the mere mention in interviews of such a background check has brought forth useful information to interviewers. If possible, archives staff members should be paid adequately and all staff grievances handled promptly and thoroughly. Avoid student and volunteer help unless these persons are closely supervised and are forbidden access to the high-security areas of the institution.

The patrons of an archives probably pose the greatest threat. There have been after-hours burglaries in archives, but the number is much smaller than the number of thefts committed by patrons in archives reading rooms. The North Carolina, Georgia and Texas state archives all suffered thefts from well-staffed reading rooms. The reality of the situation is that any institution is running a considerable risk when a non-staff member uses its holdings. Because archivists want the holdings in their institutions to be used by the public-or whatever their constituency is-they must compromise security to a degree when holdings are used. Perhaps if archivists required patrons to strip and wear pocketless coveralls into the reading room and subjected them to a complete body search before returning their clothes, the risk of theft from reading rooms might be reduced considerably. Given the conventions of today's society, archivists must meet the threat without such Draconian measures.

The archivist must obtain basic information about the patrons who use his holdings by requiring each one to complete a comprehensive registration form. A staff member should interview each new patron to serve the dual purposes of security and good reference service.

Basic reading-room security demands that the room never be left unattended while patrons are using holdings. Limit the amount of material each patron may have at any one time. Do not allow patrons to take brief cases, handbags or similar containers to research tables, and search all note paper used by patrons before they leave the reading room. Use a collection request form that has at least two parts: file one by the date the collection was used, and the second by the name or accession number of the collection. These two files will enable you to determine quickly who used a specific collection on a given date, or who last used the collection. Both pieces of information may be vital should you discover something missing. Train staff members assigned to the reading room to provide both good service and good security. Do not require so much regular work of reading-room staff that they must neglect these vital functions. Establish a definite procedure to be followed by a staff member who observes a patron concealing a document under clothing.

To prepare a procedure for the staff to follow in the case of suspected or observed theft, it is best to have the advice of an attorney. If legal services are not available, the local law enforcement agency may be helpful as many police departments have outreach programs, and it may also be able to consult the local district attorney for advice about recommended procedures. If the law enforcement agency sends an officer or team to inspect the archives to make recommendations about security, it will prove mutually beneficial as few police officers have any knowledge of archives and their special security problems.

Increasing security in a reading room usually requires no outlay of funds. Researchers who object to new and tighter security regulations should be informed of the rash of archival thefts and that the duty of the archives staff is to safeguard the archives' holdings. Usually, patrons are quite interested in the steps taken to ensure that the holdings will be there for future consultation. Improvements in perimeter security for after-hours protection should certainly be made if possible. Some perimeter electronic security systems are inexpensive if the archives has staff members with the technical knowledge and skills necessary to install them, for the major cost of such systems is in the labor.

Because of the threat to archives posed by the large number of thefts in recent years, the Society of American Archivists (SAA) applied for and was awarded a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) to fund a four-phase program on archival theft. First, SAA established a register of stolen and missing archival materials; it is updated several times a year and mailed to over twelve hundred manuscripts dealers and to many archivists in the United States and abroad. This register makes it much more difficult to market stolen archival materials because most dealers will check it before purchasing materials from persons unknown to them. The register has also been useful in the recovery of some stolen manuscripts. Registration forms may be obtained from the SAA Archival Security Program, 330 South Wells Street, Suite 810, Chicago, Illinois 60606.

The second phase of the NEH grant program finances an archival security newsletter, published bi-monthly as part of the SAA Newsletter. It carries timely notices of interest to persons concerned with archival security. A third phase of the grant program was the preparation of an archival-security manual as one in the SAA basic archival manuals series. This manual should be acquired from SAA by any security-conscious archives or archivist. A consultants' program was established by the grant that allows an institution desiring the services of an archival -security expert to obtain one through SAA. Normally, the institution pays the consultant's travel and other expenses while the SAA program pays the honorarium. Archivists interested in a visit by a consultant should also consult the archival-security program director at the address above. Consultants from all types of archival agencies, from the large public to the smallest private, are available. The results of this phase of the program have been quite satisfactory.

A fifth area of interest for the SAA archival -security program evolved from the program itself. This is a model-laws program. One of the most difficult situations faced by an archivist in protecting holdings is that created when a patron is observed or suspected of having concealed a document that he or she has been using. A confrontation over this concealment involves several controversial areas of modern law, such as search and seizure and privacy. The SAA model law, if adapted to fit a state's legal code, and passed by its legislature, provides the archivist-and the librarian - the protection offered in a number of states to a merchant who confronts a shopper suspected of shoplifting; that is, if the archivist or librarian acts on the best information available and proceeds in a proper and prescribed fashion so as not to violate any of the rights of the suspect, he or she cannot be the subject of a civil suit arising from a false accusation. This law. first passed in Virginia through the efforts of the University of Virginia Library, has been adopted by six other states, and is before legislative committees in several others. As Pennsylvania law does not presently provide such protection for its archivists, it would certainly be a good idea for Pennsylvania archivists to consider working for passage of this law in their state. A copy of the model law may be obtained from the SAA archival-security office, that also can advise anyone about the best procedure to follow in dealing with a legislature.

Security for the holdings of any archives is an important responsibility of the archivists of its staff. No institution may consider itself immune to the threat of theft. Every archivist must familiarize himself or herself with the security procedures of the institution for which he or she works, and must improve them if necessary and if possible. Archivists must be ever-vigilant to preserve the records and collections of their institutions for future generations.

Disasters: Can we plan for them? If not, how can we proceed?

By Willman Spawn

Between 1955 and 1965, approximately 340 accidents to libraries involving damage by fire. water, hurricanes and internal plumbing have been recorded in the United States alone." This startling figure comes from an unpublished report by Peter Waters of the Library of Congress Preservation Office. In 1966 this figure was eclipsed by a single event, the floods of Florence, when a million and a half books and newspapers in the National Library of Italy were damaged by water, mud and oil, and eight hundred thousand vellum and paper manuscripts were damaged in the National Archives. The financial loss was staggering, the intellectual loss no less so; however. the floods provided an unexpected opportunity when conservators convened from around the world to work, to exchange information and ideas, and ultimately to improve the methods of handling water-damaged materials.

The knowledge thus gained has been put to good use since 1966. In Pennsylvania alone, during the past dozen years there have been many cases of water damage, some involving whole libraries. It is obvious that water damage is not an isolated or unusual phenomenon, and that preventive measures are well worth the cost, which in the long run is less than the cost of the cure.

Two printed manuals -mark the progress made in the last few years in dealing with disasters. The first, a pamphlet which appeared in 1972, is entitled Procedures for Salvage of Water-damaged Library Materials, by Peter Waters. The second, published in April, 1978, is Disaster Prevention and Disaster Preparedness, by Hilda Bohem, associate librarian of the University of California, Los Angeles, and a member of the University of California Task Group on the Preservation of Library Materials. These two manuals should be read and heeded by anyone with even a passing interest in their subjects, for each packs a great deal of essential advice into a clear, concise format. Mrs. Bohem's manual, in particular, is a pioneering effort in an untravelled field. If every librarian made a serious effort to follow her recommendations. the "disaster business" would diminish considerably.

In order to keep the subject of disaster prevention to a manageable size, I will ask you to assume that the disaster could or did occur to a single library building and not to an entire system or locality. We are speculating about a fire, a leaky roof, a clogged drain, and not about an earthquake or a tidal wave. After all. the difference between a localized and a general disaster is only one of complexity; the basic rules remain the same.

RULE NUMBER ONE in disaster prevention is "know your building" know its history, its flaws, its potential problems. The following checklist is divided into subject areas; while it may be incomplete, it provides a good start in getting to know your physical plant.

How old is your building? Has it ever had a fire or a case of water damage? If so, were the causes of the disaster removed or only patched over? Could it happen again in the same place, in the same way?

Do you have a set of plans for the building, showing not only its design but the placement of plumbing and mechanical and electrical systems? Is it up to date?

Flow old is the roof? Are there any signs of leaks, new or old? Are the drains and the downspouts regularly checked for clogging or breaks? Is there a skylight that might leak?

Are the windows tight? Are windows ever left open for ventilation, so that a hard rain could, come in and damage nearby material?

Are you vulnerable to rising water at ground level? Could a flash flood or flooding river water enter the building? Are there ever signs of seepage in the basement after a heavy or prolonged rain? Have you ever needed to use a pump to remove moisture from the basement? Is there a smell of mildew anywhere in the building in humid weather?

Do you have steam heat or an old hot-water system? If the answer is yes, do the pipes pass above the book stacks? Do your plumbing lines run near the book stacks? If a pipe breaks or a toilet over flows, do you know where to cut off the water supply?

Where is your fuse box or master panel? Is it locked, and if so where is the key kept? Does more than one person know the key's location? Are there electrical outlets in the stacks? Are the power lines heavy duty where needed, or is the system possibly overloaded by today's demands?

If the power fails due to a disaster, even a minor one. do you have an alternate power source? Where would you get one if needed? How much power (i.e., how many amps) would you need from a portable generator? Remember, wet books and papers need to be kept cold to inhibit mold growth; how much power would you need for this?

Do you have the appropriate fire extinguishers located conveniently throughout the library? Have staff members ever actually used an extinguisher, or have they only read the directions? Have you ever had a fire drill with emphasis on saving books as well as people? Does the Fire Marshal inspect the building regularly, and if he finds violations, are they corrected or only white washed?

RULE NUMBER TWO in disaster prevention relates to your storage arrangements. Do you have an up-to-date diagram of each stack level, showing the location of major subject areas and indicating the inclusive call numbers? Where is your most valuable material stored? Do you have your art books, your films, photographs, microfilms and microfiches stored in the basement or up under the roof? Both these locations are especially vulnerable to water damage. If you have a locked storage area, are the keys readily available and their location known to all the staff? If this storage area is seldom entered and contains its own air conditioning unit, is the area checked daily to make sure the unit is operating correctly?

Finally, RULE NUMBER THREE. deals with staff participation in disaster prevention. Can all off-duty staff members be alerted quickly in case of an emergency? Has one person been designated as an emergency coordinator? (This person need not be the library director, but it should be someone known for common sense, a calm manner and a flexible mind.) Is the coordinator prepared to deal with a disaster, and does he or she have a group of staff members prepared to assist? In Bohem's terminology, this group would be called the disaster action team, or DAT, with responsibility for preparedness, salvage and post-mortem operations.

Before the discussion turns from prevention to preparedness, I would like to stress that "an ounce of prevention is [still] worth a pound of cure." In only twenty years, Pennsylvania libraries have sustained water damage fromvkeat variety of causes -a clogged roof drain, a broken steam pipe, overflow from a washroom sink, condensation inside a building from excessive humidity, flooding after a hurricane, the extinguishing of a fire. One or two of these causes, the hurricane for example, could be considered as "acts of God" and not preventable, but there is no doubt that adequate prevention could have reduced their impact and saved hundreds of hours of staff time and thousands of dollars spent on salvage.

Yet, one must be realistic, especially in this world of shrinking budgets and galloping inflation. There are only a few libraries that will be able to set up a prevention and preparedness program of any size. Consequently, certain simple and inexpensive procedures that can case the impact of a disaster should be examined and recommended as a start.

First of all, obtain a number of copies of the Bohem and Waters manuals, and make sure that the entire staff reads and digests them. Then discuss the" Bohem recommendations for prevention and preparedness at one or more staff meetings, inviting criticisms and suggestions. The Bohem recommendations may seem over-elaborate for a small library, but personal experience suggests that they can be adapted to a library of almost any size.

Second, set up a disaster action team, which should include staff members with knowledge of the building, the collections and outside resources. It may well be that the staff people who demonstrated the quickest comprehension of the Bohem recommendations and the need for them will be the initial members of your disaster action team.

Third, select one staff member as recovery director or emergency coordinator, whichever title suits your circumstances better. In the past, this person usually has been the outside expert brought in to supervise the salvage operation. As the expert in the field, the outsider has a distinct advantage: his decisions are treated as gospel - at least as long as lie is on the spot! However. such an expert is not always available, and his services usually require a fee. Therefore, it seems advantageous to train a staff member as a resident specialist. or at least as a person capable of recognizing the problems and arranging for the appropriate solutions.

This selection will put a great deal of responsibility on the shoulders of an already overburdened staff member. But the resident specialist starts with some advantages of his Or her own: knowledge of the building and its history, awareness of the strengths and weaknesses of the staff, contacts with possible resources in the surrounding area. The specialist can expand these advantages by reading the literature, attending workshops and conferences on prevention and salvage, and adapting the knowledge gained to his or her specific situation. In the words of Bohem,

If the Recovery Director is a staff member. it shall be his responsibility to keep thoroughly informed and up to date on disaster recovery techniques and to make an annual report to the DAT so that they will have a general familiarity with the latest procedures. It shall also be the Director's responsibility to assemble a reference library of disaster literature to be available to the DAT for their further education and as reference during a crisis. An updated list of persons who may be contacted for expert advice in an emergency... should be part of this reference material.

The following items are essential in preparing to deal with the results of a disaster:

  1. up-to-date copies of a telephone list of the disaster action team, designating their functions (i.e., director, cataloguer, cleaner);
  2. a "telephone tree" of library staff members so that the entire staff can be alerted quickly to a crisis;
  3. a list of resources, including the police and fire officials, who could authorize emergency parking, pumping, etc.; suppliers of such items as plastic crates, deep-freeze facilities, portable pumps, generators and fans;
  4. a list of possible volunteer helpers from other libraries, community groups, library organizations, past staff members and others;
  5. an arrangement for paying the bills for emergency needs which bypasses the usual library routine; this arrangement can be vital when quick decisions and instant availability can determine the success or failure of a salvage operation.

The salvage operation will gain nothing by hasty action or by riding roughshod over staff members who may be in a state of shock, For a dedicated librarian there can be no shock comparable to finding two feet of water in the basement on Monday morning, or watching water drip from the ceiling onto the rare-book collection below. Planning will help you and your staff regain the confidence to cope with the unexpected crisis. People suddenly faced with an overwhelming burden can find unsuspected strength when given time to pull themselves together. This will be especially true if they can rely on knowledge previously gained.

A nucleus of reference books on disaster management already exists. These include the pamphlets cited above by Waters and Bohem. and the author's "After the Water Comes," which appeared in the 1973 issue of the Pennsylvania Library Association Bulletin, devoted to preservation of library materials. (Other items are listed in the appended bibliography.) The specific procedures, cautions and recommendations included in these printed statements are easily read and comprehended, and need not be restated here. However, there are some general rules that are always worth repetition.

When disaster strikes, most individuals feel a tremendous urge to "do something." By the law of averages, the right thing is often done but not always. In fact, hasty or uninformed action may complicate the very situation it sets out to save. There is little to be gained by haste and everything to be gained by establishing the dimensions of the problem, Has the cause of the disaster been determined and has it been dealt with adequately? What types of materials are involved? How many books will need to be handled? Who will coordinate the arrival of the packing crates, the volunteers, the refrigerated van? If it is a holiday, a weekend, or a summer vacation time, can the expected resources be relied upon?

An aspect of salvage that is often overlooked is the need to record the operation from the very beginning: the circumstances, the decisions, the staff involved and so on. It is unwise to rely on memory for these factors during a crisis, especially if insurance claims are to be made. Most salvage operations stretch over many months, and careful records will prove their worth many times over. Meticulous records must be kept of the handling of the books; therefore. a cataloguer is included on the disaster action team from its inception. A diary will help to avoid duplication of effort; it will provide the basis for judging what parts of the operation were well handled, and which need improvement for the future; it can serve as the foundation for reports to be made to trustees, library groups and other agencies. In Bohem's words.

Publication should be considered because the more we learn about other people's methods of coping with disaster, the better prepared we can be for our own. It behooves us to share our experience.

If you lived to call in an outside consultant to act as the recovery director or to advise your staff specialist. lie or she will need plenty of hard facts in order to make tile right decisions. (Here the diary will be invaluable.) The consultant cannot begin to know your collection as well as you do, viz., which items can be replaced and which are irreplaceable; which items get limited use and can wait for care while others must receive priority attention; which items can be discarded immediately. Teamwork, combining your local knowledge with his technical knowledge, usually produces a successful result at the lowest possible cost.

A final word. The recovery director must be the authority whether lie is an outside consultant or a resident specialist. As Bohem writes, "It is essential... that Final decision making be centered in one authoritative person." An extraordinary situation calls for all extraordinary solution: individual rights and conflicts may have to be submerged for it time in order for the director and his team to function for the common good. The ultimate success of the salvage operation will depend oil tile cooperation they receive.


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