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The June 8 arrest at Yale University of an antique map dealer has sent officials at libraries across the United States—including Harvard’s—scrambling through their stacks to determine whether their holdings have been heisted.
Harvard’s inventory of its maps is not yet complete, according to a University spokeswoman, so no assessment can yet be made whether E. Forber Smiley, III pilfered from the collection.
Police in New Haven last month arrested Smiley, a resident of the Martha’s Vineyard town of Chilmark, after he allegedly dropped a razor blade on the floor of Yale’s Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library. The police later found seven maps, worth $900,000, in Smiley’s possession. The British Library in London, the Newberry Library in Chicago, and the Boston Public Library have also reported missing materials.
Smiley pled not guilty in a New Haven court Wednesday to three charges of larceny. His residence on Martha’s Vineyard could not be reached by phone yesterday.
Smiley operates a Web site, efsmaps.com, which offers for sale several maps, mostly of U.S. locations and drawn in the seventeenth through nineteenth centuries.
Beth Brainard, a spokeswoman for the Harvard College Library, declined to comment on whether Smiley had visited Harvard’s collection, though she confirmed that an investigation of Harvard’s holdings was underway in response to his arrest.
“Whenever something like this happens, it makes all libraries step back and take a look at how they protect their collections,” Brainard said. “There’s a fine line between allowing access to collections and protecting them.”
Both the Harvard University Map Collection (HUMC), housed in Pusey Library, and Houghton Library allow non-Harvard affiliates access to their centuries-old collections at no charge. At HUMC, researchers must identify themselves, fill out a map request slip, and inspect the map on site under the supervision of staff members. At Houghton, researchers must additionally present two forms of identification and a current address. Guards inspect all materials entering and leaving the reading room.
Despite such security measures, burglaries of valuable materials from Harvard libraries are not unheard of. In 1999, a thief made off with $1 million worth of Chinese printed books, dating back to the seventh century A.D., that had been kept in the Harvard-Yenching Library. Three years earlier, another $1 million in books went missing from Widener, Loeb, and the Fine Arts libraries.
While the husband of a Harvard graduate student eventually confessed to the second heist, the Harvard-Yenching theft remains unsolved, Brainard said.
—Material from the Associated Press was used in the reporting of this story.
—Sam Teller contributed to the reporting of this story.
—Staff writer Brendan R. Linn can be reached at email@example.com.
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