charged with book theft, his defence revealed he spent his wedding night polishing his beloved books

"Yet there is still no global security network for libraries and the need for more co-operation and openness is, perhaps, reflected in the fact that Hakimzadeh . . . was accused of stealing 94 items from the Royal Asiatic Society, another London library, and the matter was settled out of court. It is unlikely he would have been given privileged access in the British Library if this knowledge had been shared earlier . . . Now we come to the elephant in the room: insider theft . . . evidence suggests that most thefts are committed by staff or trusted insiders. Ton Cremers, the voluble and forthright former head of security at the Rijksmuseum and founder of the Museum Security Network, was one of the first people to go public on this issue. He believes that ‘inside jobs’ account for upwards of 70 per cent of all library theft in Europe and 80 per cent in the US." 




Yet not all book thieves are bad—stealing from Nazis is OK!


Every so often a high-profile example of book theft makes the news. The crime in question does not concern hard-up students helping themselves to textbooks in Foyles. Rather it details cases of premeditated, often audacious, theft of beautiful and rare books. 


It happened in January, when Farhad Hakimzadeh, an Iranian businessman and book collector, was given a two-year sentence for cutting and stealing pages from antiquarian books in the British and Bodleian libraries over seven years. Hakimzadeh, 60, said he took the pages, from texts that date back to the 16th century and deal with European and Middle Eastern relations, only to augment his own collection. It was proved, however, that he was using stolen single pages to increase the value of books he already owned, which he could then sell. One such page contained a 500-year-old map painted by Hans Holbein, an artist in the court of Henry VIII, worth £32,000.


It also happened in August 2000, when Stanislas Gosse, a 30-year-old former naval officer and engineering tutor, began secretly to plunder the library of the ancient monastery of Mont Sainte-Odile, high in the Vosges mountains of eastern France.


Gosse stole a key and began taking volumes at night from the library, which contains thousands of precious illuminated books. He carried the weightier tomes home on his bicycle. Later he utilised a forgotten secret passage to gain entry to the library.


When Gosse was finally caught red-handed in May 2002, he was trying to get away with three suitcases containing 300 books—at which point he admitted everything. Police raided his flat and found 1,100 historical and religious books and manuscripts meticulously arranged, catalogued and, in some cases, restored. Nothing had been sold.


In newspaper reports of such crimes, epithets such as “gentlemen thieves” are liberally applied to men such as Hakimzadeh and Jacques. Typically, they are characterised as obsessed academics willing to do almost anything to obtain that ancient tome or map that will fill a gap on their bookshelves. Hakimzadeh’s defence revealed that he spent his wedding night polishing his beloved books, while Gosse offered his own love of books as mitigation for his crime. “I felt the books had been abandoned,” he said. He was given a suspended sentence, a €17,000 fine and was allowed to go back to his teaching job. The archbishop forgave the thief and said he would even allow him (supervised) access to the library.


—from Tim Richardson, “What Drives People to Steal Precious Books,” Financial Times, March 6, 2009


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