Friday, February 08, 2008

Don't Mess with the Librarians

I wasn't going to post today, but this one was too juicy to ignore. A loyal reader sent this court appeal to me. I'm not usually a fan of legal documents, but this one is worth a read.

When librarians go bad and steal from special collections, it's a tragedy. When morons go bad and steal from special collections, it can definitely be a comedy.

Here's the beginning of the story:
"The defendants were college buddies (19-20 years old) who hatched a plan to steal rare books from the special collections library at Transylvania University (Lexington, KY) and sell them at auction in New York City. Their earliest musings began in January 2004, but the actual robbery did not occur until December 17, 2004. They were apprehended February 11, 2005, pleaded guilty on April 21, 2005, were sentenced to prison on ecember 15, 2005, and appealed December 23,2005."

It goes on to describe how they told Christie's they had a "first addition" of the Origin of Species, dressed up in ridiculous clothing to rob the library, and used a "stun pen" on the Special Collections Librarian, "which caused a tingling sensation and left a small bruise, but did not cause any significant pain or lasting harm." On their way out they left some rare items on a table, and dropped others as they were fleeing. It's like the Keystone Robbers.

The best part is the action of the library director at Transylvania University, Susan Brown. I'll let the text speak for itself:

The slightly stunned Special Collections Librarian "yelled to Susan Brown that they were being robbed, and Ms. Brown wheeled around to pursue the robbers. She caught up to them in a stairwell where they were attempting to open the emergency exit and, surprised by her arrival and aggressive confrontation, they dropped several objects — specifically, the two remaining volumes of the Birds of North America four-volume set (they had left two volumes atop the pink bed sheet in the Special Collections Department) and the two volumes of the Quadrupeds three-volume set (one of the three volumes had been left behind, stuck in its drawer in the Special Collections Department). Lipka and Borsuk fled through the emergency door carrying five objects . . . with Ms. Brown and other librarians in hot pursuit. Lipka and Borsuk scrambled into the waiting van and Allen sped away, though not before Ms. Brown had scratched the van with a key in an attempt to mark it for later identification. Once the robbers had escaped, the police were called, but before the police could document the crime scene, some librarians collected the discarded objects and returned them to their proper places."

Now that's how you protect your library collections. Why hasn't the ALA given Susan Brown an award for being the most ass-kicking librarian in the country? (Pardon the language, but it's obviously true.) Or has it, and I just didn't notice? Maybe the Annoyed Librarian Association will give her the award.

Enjoy the weekend.


Toni said...

I had a colleague who once broke her leg jumping over the circ desk to apprehend a student (who set off the alarm and ran).

That's one dedicated paraprofessional.

Anonymous said...

The ALA is too busy getting arms and planning for the invasion of Kenya to notice what is going on in America.

Anonymous said...

Please Annoyed Librarian, oh please, start giving awards. Just as there is an alternative to the Rose Parade..the Doo Dah Parade ( You could offer an alternative to ALA awards each year. Just think of the fun you could have with the categories.

Anonymous said...

One award you could give is the Dancing with the DDR stars of library land.

Find the librarians who are really cutting it up and serving patrons in a double or nothing fine payoff.

Extra points will be given to librarians who do this with the elderly and extra super secret bonus points for ones that serve the elderly who are infirm and in wheelchairs.

Dances With Books said...

Those two could have been prime candidates for a Darwin Award if they had put a bit more effort. So, this is sort of like an episode of "Librarians" (think "Cops", except somewhat blended with "Reno 911").

As for awards, I second the motion. For one, the dance award. Instead of that corny bookcart drill team, I say they tear it up in a DDR showdown. Then you could have the Twopointopian Award for the most zealous initiative sponsor of an idea likely to go nowhere fast or for trying to live out their youth via 2.0.

Anonymous said...

Please no more awards. We have too many awards in library-land already.

Our heads are becoming too swelled as it is.

Anonymous said...

"...returned them to their proper places" is my favorite, laugh-out-loud moment of this story. Too classic.

Anonymous said...

No way we have enough awards.

I don't have one yet.

When are the wasting time on wayward blogs (the Watowbes an Algonquin word from the really early days of the net) going to be awarded?

I think that I, anonymous, should win that award, don't you?

j- said...

*The ALA is too busy getting arms and planning for the invasion of Kenya to notice what is going on in America.*

Can't be...I'd have thought the ALA would've been mobilizing their crack commando squad to go support Code Pink in Bezerkely against the USMC by now.

maura said...

awards = parties = champagne

so yes, please start giving awards.
i also like the idea of a dance off!

Anonymous said...

Yes awards! I can see it now:

Most vapid library video

Most time and effort wasted in an unused 2.0 application

and of course, most 'hip' librarian

Colleen said...

Bwahahha. Oh, AL, I was the Circ super at the University of Kentucky when the cops came to confiscate our computers (which was where the kids had made the appointment with the librarian). I had never realized librarianship was such a dangerous profession. Shortly after that, I moved to reference and instruction. No one has ever tried to mug me, or steal my databases.

Vampire Librarian said...

This is incredible. Every librarian there deserves a medal, but why did they reshelve the books so quickly? That seems very odd. Did they fear the police taking them into evidence and harming the books?

Miss Kate said...

hehehehe! this made my night.

Anonymous said...

I'm saving up to get a stun gun. That'll keep patrons in line.

Anonymous said...

Items were stolen fron the New York State Library (not archives)--by an employee (librarian):

Stolen historic documents to be returned, paid for by eBay
By MICHAEL GORMLEY | Associated Press Writer
12:03 PM EST, February 9, 2008

ALBANY, N.Y. - Documents penned during the Civil War and others to and from Theodore and Franklin Roosevelt are among hundreds of stolen documents sold online that eBay is agreeing to buy back and return to New York's archives, a state official said Saturday.

The online auction giant has no liability in the sale of the stolen artifacts on eBay, but the company has voluntarily agreed to buy them back at the sale prices and return the documents to New York, according to the official who spoke on the condition of anonymity because not all details of the investigation have been announced.

In January, state Attorney General Andrew Cuomo's investigation found about 200 documents were stolen and sold in the last two years. But checking through the buyer and seller comments in those sales revealed another 200 documents had been sold since 2001, according to the official.

The total cost of rebuying the documents for which eBay has sales records is estimated at $68,000. The offer by eBay means the state won't have to spend money to buy the records.

The official said the buyers appear not to have known the documents were stolen and so wouldn't face criminal charges.

"We believe that when people realize they bought stolen artifacts they will step forward and do the right thing," the state official said.

Cuomo and eBay will contact the buyers, the state official said.

An eBay spokesman didn't immediately respond to requests for comment made by telephone, e-mail and pager.

In January, Cuomo charged Daniel Lorello, 54, an archives and records management specialist in the New York Department of Education, with stealing items including Currier and Ives lithographs and the 1865 railroad timetable for Abraham Lincoln's funeral train.

Lorello, who lives in Rensselaer near Albany, pleaded not guilty to charges of grand larceny, criminal possession of stolen property and scheme to defraud and was released awaiting trial. He faces up to 25 years in prison.

If he is convicted, a court could order restitution.

Hundreds more historical documents may have been sold at trade shows, where Cuomo's investigators said New York documents were sometimes swapped for other historic documents.

Among the items stolen from New York were Davy Crockett Almanacs _ popular 19th century pamphlets about the frontier hero's exploits _ sold for more than $5,000; artifacts associated with the Revolutionary, Civil and Mexican wars, World War I, black Americana and items related to the Roosevelts and Jewish Americans.

The sale was noticed by a history buff, Virginia attorney Joseph Romito, who discovered that a four-page letter sold on eBay for $1,800 that was written by former Vice President John Calhoun belonged to the New York State Library and Archives. Romito then alerted authorities.

Privateer6 said...

Actually Ebay wouldn't have to pay squat and NY would still get their lost documents back. Under federal law that has been tested and upheld in the 1970s, stolen archival documents can be confiscated and returned since it is stolen property and there is no statue of limitations in reference to stolen public records. That's why NC was able top get their copy of the Bill of Rights back after 140+ years.

Hieronymus said...

Were the perps wearing gloves? It seems to me the librarians were otherwise interfering with the investigation.

Conflicted Librarian said...

Vampire Librarian,

The immediate re-shelving was a bad reflex thing in this case.

They should have left the books where they were, posted guards, and waited for the police to note what they were and release the books for shelving. Especially now that this appeals panel has stated that it's stealing if the bad guys get it out of the special collections room ... thieves don't need to make it outside with the books.

I'm interested in reading that these poor excuses for robbers kept dropping books and there isn't any mention about resulting physical damage to the volumes. Them Audubon books is BIG!

Anonymous said...

Obviously librarians don't read Vanity Fair! There was a lengthy article on this several months ago.