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Seven books stolen from Widener Library in 1931 were returned last week after being located in the shop of a Newark, N. J. Bookseller.
These volumes are part of a huge haul which was made by a ring of professional book-thieves. At the same time, a graduate student was arrested with many of the 2000 books he had succeeded in getting away with over a period of eight years.
As a grim warning to future offenders, the following terse announcement has been pasted as a book-plate in all the volumes which have since been recovered: "This book was stolen from the Harvard Library. It was later recovered. The thief was sentenced to two years at hard labor."
None of the books recently recovered is of particular value, according to Walter B. Briggs, Acting Librarian probably the most costly being a 1792 edition of Thomas Paine's "Letters to the Earl of Sherburne."
Epidemic of Stealing
It was after this epidemic of book-thieving that the familar turnstile was installed, ending what Briggs called the "naive period" when no one was suspected of desecrating a temple of learning. The effect of the turnstile is shown in the report of Robert P. Blake, Director of the University Library, for the next year which states that book losses had decreased 85 per cent.
Last year 40 books were permanently lost from the Reading Room as compared with the average annual loss of 350 before the turnstile went in. The problem of book control is particularly difficult in Widener because of the large numbers allowed free access to the actual shelves. Pointing out that fully 1000 persons have entry to the stack, Briggs stated that no other library in the world of comparable size has such a free system.
One way in which books reported lost turn up is from the bequests of late professors in the University who have absent-mindedly removed books and forgotten to return them, but pay their debt by leaving them as a gift to the library.
Robert G. Rouillard, the attendant at the front door of Widener who daily examines thousands of books for the proper identification marks, says that the hardest part of his job is answering impossible questions. The beginning of the year when curious Freshmen are most abundant, is the most trying period, he says, with such queries as whether one goes up or down in the elevator to get to the fifth floor, and shouldn't the title "Harry Elkins Widener, A.B. 1917" be changed to A.D., typical of what he has to answer.
He feels that the turnstile system is working well, and that it is not an imposition on the users of the library. Complaining of the tendency not to present their own books for inspection. Rouillard ended with the plea, "Please show all books for inspection. The attendant is not a mind-reader."
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