ACRL/RBMS Guidelines Regarding Security and Theft in Special Collections

Approved by the ACRL Board of Directors September 2009; revised January 2019. These guidelines are currently under revision. Please contact the RBMS Security Committee Co-Chairs if you have any comments or questions.

These guidelines identify important issues that collection administrators should address in developing adequate security measures and a strategy for responding to thefts. While directed primarily toward special collections in the U.S., many topics are also applicable to general collections and to special collections in other countries. “Special Collections” here refers to repositories containing rare books, manuscripts, archives, and other antiquarian and special materials. “Booksellers” refers to those who sell such materials. In the term “Library Security Officer,” “Library” is understood to mean any special collections repository.

These guidelines identify important issues that collection administrators should address in developing adequate security measures and a strategy for responding to thefts. While directed primarily toward special collections in the U.S., many topics are also applicable to general collections and to special collections in other countries.  “Special Collections” here refers to repositories containing rare books, manuscripts, archives, and other antiquarian and special materials. “Booksellers” refers to those who sell such materials. In the term “library security officer,” “library” is understood to mean any special collections repository.
It should be noted that these best practices and recommendations have been written with an eye toward them being both comprehensive and scalable, so that they are broadly applicable in most special collection settings.  Nevertheless, it is also recognized that this document is perforce aspirational: full compliance with these guidelines may not be possible in every instance given a variety of factors, including fiscal constraints; mission- and programmatic-driven considerations; local practices and needs related to collections and staff; and the diversity—and limitations of—libraries’ architecture and design. 

Part I: Security Measures

1. Introduction

Administrators of special collections must ensure that their materials remain intact and secure from theft and damage. The security of collections is now especially important since administrators' efforts to increase the use and knowledge of collections in their care can result in a greater public awareness of their value and may increase the risk of theft. Security arrangements may vary from one institution to another and are dependent on staffing, physical setting, and use.

Booksellers also must concern themselves with collection security, since thieves may offer stolen materials to them for sale. Administrators should make every effort to familiarize booksellers with the ways institutions attempt to secure and identify their materials and help them use this knowledge to lessen anyone's chances of profiting from theft.

The appointment of a library security officer and the development of a written security policy can help ensure that staff is aware of their legal and procedural responsibilities in applying security measures.

2. The Library Security Officer 

All staff holding positions in special collections settings should work to ensure the security of the collections in their care.  To this end, institutions should endeavor to foster a workplace culture that recognizes not only the importance of their special collections but also the security risks inherent in the storage, usage, and movement of these materials. 

While the security of the collections should be every employee’s concern, institutions should, nevertheless, appoint a library security officer who has the authority to carry out the organization’s security program.   The person in this role—who typically performs this function as part of his or her overall job responsibilities—should possess a thorough knowledge of all repository security needs, particularly those of special collections.  The library security officer should not necessarily be conceived of as an institution’s general security officer, although he or she may also serve in that capacity.  If necessary, the functions of the library security officer may be assigned to several individuals within an institution, rather than to a single employee.

The library security officer is the person with principal responsibility for planning and administering a security program, which should include a survey of the collections, reviews of the physical layout of the institution, and training of the institution's staff.  He or she should develop and maintain active working relationships with colleagues and seek the advice and assistance of appropriate personnel such as institutional administrators, corporate counsel, life safety officers, and consultants from law enforcement agencies and insurance companies.

Suggestions for implementation:

  • In some repositories, the library security officer and the special collections administrator may be the same person.
  • The functions of the library security officer may be assigned to several individuals within an institution, rather than to a single employee
  • Special collections administrators in institutions without another official for whom the role of library security officer would be appropriate are encouraged to take on this role and advocate that the institution recognize the importance of this responsibility.

3. The Security Policy

The library security officers should develop a written policy on the security of the collections, in consultation with administrators and staff, legal authorities, and other knowledgeable persons. The policy should include a standard operating procedure on dealing with a theft or other security problems. The security policy should be kept up-to-date with current names and telephone numbers of institutional and law enforcement contacts. The institution should also review the policy periodically to insure that institutional needs continue to be adequately addressed. The library security officer should be involved with the development and implementation of general security measures, as these may affect the security of special collections materials. The library security officer should also be involved with emergency and disaster planning.

Suggestions for implementation:

  • In large institutions it may be necessary to assemble a Security Planning Group to assist the library security officer in identifying problem areas and to recommend solutions. This group, made up of the library security officer and other appropriate personnel, will be responsible for developing a security plan to prevent theft and a detailed plan of action to follow when a theft is discovered. The plan may be a part of the institution's disaster plan or constitute a separate plan. The plan should not be a public document (e.g., it should not be posted on a web site), but accessible only to appropriate institutional personnel.
  • Institutions that lack appropriate staff resources may wish to bring in a security consultant to assist in developing a policy and in determining any major threats to the collection. When engaging a security consultant, the institution or library security officer should use caution in evaluating the consultant's competence or ability to perform the work. The institution should investigate the security consultant's background and references thoroughly.

4. The Facility

The special collections building, unit, or area should have as few access points as possible. Fire and emergency exits, which should be strictly controlled and alarmed, should not be used for regular access. Within the facility itself, the public should have access only to public areas, not to work areas or stack space. Researchers should be received in a separate reception area where a coat room and lockers should be provided for researchers' personal belongings and outerwear. A secure reading room, classroom, or other designated space where researchers can be continuously monitored by staff should be identified as the only area in which material may be used. A staff member or security guard should check researchers' personal materials before they enter the secure area as well as when they depart.

Keys or electronic keycards are especially vulnerable items; therefore, a controlled check-out system for all keys should be maintained. Keys to secure areas should be issued to staff only on an as-needed basis, and master keys should be secured against unauthorized access. Combinations or alarm codes for vaults or other secure collection storage areas should have limited distribution and be changed each time a staff member with access leaves his or her position. Strong consideration should be given to installing proprietary keyways (i.e., unique keys and locks available only from a single manufacturer) in locks in the special collections area. Security cameras should be installed that cover reading rooms and any access points that security professionals deem appropriate. All recordings should be retained for as long as possible, preferably permanently.  

Suggestions for implementation:

  • In institutions where it is not possible to hire a security guard, a designated staff member could perform the guard’s function. Consideration should be given to installing a video surveillance system.
  • As a precautionary policy, keys and locks to secure areas should be changed on a regular basis.
  • When an institution plans to remodel, renovate space, or build a new facility for special collections materials, the library security officer and the special collections administrator should ensure that all security needs are addressed in the design and planning.

5. Staff

An atmosphere of trust and concern for the collections is probably the best guarantee against theft by staff. Nevertheless, close and equitable supervision is essential. The staff, including students and volunteers, should be chosen carefully. Careful personnel management is an ongoing necessity. Disgruntled staff may seek retribution through theft, destruction, or willful mishandling of collections. Consideration should be given to bonding employees who work in special collections. Training the staff in security measures should be a high priority of the library security officer. Such training should ensure that staff is aware of their legal and procedural responsibilities in relation to security as well as their own and the researchers' legal rights when handling breaches. Staff should be discouraged from taking personal belongings into secure areas, and such belongings should be subject to inspection by security staff when exiting.

Suggestions for implementation:

  • The library security officer and special collections administrators should ensure that staff is familiar with these guidelines and the security policies in their institutions and how they may apply specifically to their institution. New staff should receive security training in a timely fashion as part of their orientation process.
  • Appropriate or consistent with institutional policies, background checks and bonding of staff members should be undertaken.
  • The library security officer and special collections administrators should be familiar with the institution's personnel policies, and advocate security concerns with the institution's human resources staff.

6. Researchers

The special collections administrator must carefully balance the responsibility of making materials available to researchers against the responsibility of ensuring the security of the materials.  Registration for each researcher who uses special collections materials should be required, including the name, address, legal acknowledgment, and institutional affiliation (if any). Photo identification or some other form of positive identification is necessary to establish physical identity. Records should also be kept of projects researchers are working on and of collections they will be using.  These registration records should be retained permanently.

Staff must be able to identify who has used which materials by keeping adequate checkout records, whether paper or electronic.  These records should also be retained indefinitely in order to be available to law enforcement authorities if thefts or vandalism later come to light.  No matter what their format, the records should unequivocally link a particular researcher to a specific item.

Special collections security plans must take into consideration institutional policies, especially those pertaining to confidentiality, of their parent institution.  Access to registration and circulation records should be restricted.  Institutional policies and practices, especially in the course of investigating possible thefts, should not violate applicable confidentiality laws.  Library security officers should be familiar with all applicable laws governing personally identifiable information about users.

Each researcher should be given an orientation to the rules governing the use of the collections. Rules should be prominently posted as well as available on the institution’s web site. Researchers should legally acknowledge compliance with these regulations. Researchers should not be permitted to take extraneous personal materials into the reading areas. These may include such items as notebooks, briefcases, outerwear, books, and voluminous papers. Personal computers should be removed from the case before use in the reading room is permitted. Lockers or some kind of secure space should be provided for any items not permitted in the reading room.

Staff should observe researchers at all times and not allow them to work unobserved behind bookcases, book trucks, stacks of books, or any other obstacles that restrict staff view. Researchers should be limited at any one time to having access only to those books, manuscripts, or other items that are needed to perform the research at hand. Staff should check the condition, content, and completeness of each item before circulating it and when it is returned after use. This checking of materials that are returned is especially important for the use of archival and manuscript collections, which often consist of many loose, unique pieces. Researchers should be required to return all materials before leaving the reading room, even if they plan to return later to continue their research. They should not be allowed to exchange items or to have access to materials brought into the room for use by another researcher.

Suggestions for implementation:

  • The library security officer or special collections administrator should seek the advice of the institution's legal counsel or other appropriate legal authority when developing researcher policies in order to ensure adequate legal recourse if researchers violate the use agreement.
  • The institution should require that all researchers read and legally acknowledge an agreement to abide by institutional policies.

7.  Classrooms

Security and handling policies governing reading rooms apply to classroom settings.  Further, written security and handling policies for classroom settings should be part of a repository’s overall security policy.   When possible, these security and handling guidelines should be distributed to the participants prior to the session and reviewed by the instructor and the participants at the beginning of the session.  Staff should make clear who is allowed to handle materials during the session. 

All requests for classroom sessions should be reviewed and approved by repository staff.  Criteria to be considered include the number of items; the type and condition of the materials; the number of participants; and the instructor’s level of experience in working with special collections materials.  The repository may wish to limit the number of items shown in a class session or the number of participants based on available staffing, space, or other factors. 

The repository should require a staff member to be present in the room while special collection materials are being used; staff should not leave materials unattended in classroom settings.  Whenever possible, security cameras should be installed that cover classrooms. All recordings should be retained for as long as possible, preferably permanently.   

If possible, participants should register in advance of the session according to the same procedures utilized for the reading room. At minimum, a list of the participants for each session should be retained.  This may be accomplished through a sign-in sheet or a list prepared in advance of the session. Items not permitted in the reading room should not be permitted in the classroom.  Any material that participants bring into the classroom should be reviewed by staff when the participants depart. 

The repository should keep thorough records of the items used for classes and retain this information indefinitely.  A list of items should be prepared before the session.  When the materials are collected, they should be checked against the list to ensure that all items are present.

Staff should review materials carefully before and after the session.  Staff should restrict handling of fragile materials in classroom settings or call attention to that item’s fragility and demonstrate appropriate handling techniques at the beginning of the session.  As much as possible, materials should be described and marked before being shown in a classroom setting according to the guidelines in Appendix I.  

Suggestions for implementation:

  • Institutions should develop classroom policies that incorporate existing reading room rules and security practices.  Such policies should stipulate classroom handling and staffing requirements as well as note any limits on the number and/or type of collection items that may be requested.  The maximum number of classroom attendees should also be stated, along with any record-keeping requirements.  Classroom policies should be flexible enough to allow additional precautionary measures to be enacted when necessary.
  • Institutions should make their policies accessible on their websites and review them with the participants prior to the classroom session.   
  • Institutions may wish to provide an orientation to new faculty on how to teach responsibly with special collections materials.  These training sessions can serve as a form of outreach.

8. The Collections

Administrators of special collections must be able to identify positively the materials in their collections to establish loss and to substantiate claims to recovered stolen property. This process includes keeping adequate accession records, maintaining detailed cataloging records and lists in finding aids, recording copy-specific information, and keeping condition reports and records. Lists developed to fulfill the requirements of insurance policies should also be kept current. In addition, the materials themselves should be made identifiable by marking them following the Guidelines for Marking (Appendix I), by applying other unique marks, and by keeping photographic, digital, or microform copies of valuable items.

A recent theft or act of vandalism may give an indication of a building area, subject, or type of material that will be the target of future theft or mutilation. If appropriate, transfer materials related to those already stolen or mutilated to a more secure area. The theft or mutilation of printed books or manuscripts may indicate that other genres of materials containing similar subject matter will become the targets of thieves and vandals.

Many institutions house materials in open stack areas accessible to all users. These open stack areas may contain rare materials which are unidentified and unprotected. Materials in open stacks are most vulnerable to breaches in security. Many thieves search these areas for materials considered rare, rather than attempt to infiltrate special collections or outwit the security measures implemented in monitored reading rooms. Institutions should establish procedures for the routine review of general stacks, using the ACRL/RBMS Guidelines on the Selection and Transfer of Materials from General Collections to Special Collections to assist in identifying rare materials on the open shelves in need of protection.

Suggestion for implementation:

  • Items that are more valuable should be segregated from the collections into higher security areas, with more restricted conditions for staff access and researcher use.

9. Record-Keeping, Description, and Cataloging

A. Catalog all materials as fully as institutional resources and descriptive practices will allow. Stolen materials that have been described in detail are far more easily identified and recovered. Materials that have not been completely cataloged or processed should be made available to researchers only if security is not compromised and additional precautions (such as more stringent supervision of use, a reduction in the number of items dispensed at one time and marking of items) are taken.
B. In the case of books, use the catalog record to describe copy-specific characteristics (e.g., binding, marks of previous ownership, defects) and bibliographic information that helps to distinguish among editions, issues, and states. Maintain complete acquisitions records, including antiquarian catalog descriptions. Create machine-readable records for local public access and international bibliographic databases. Participate in bibliographic projects that record detailed bibliographic descriptions.
C. Conduct regular inventories of both cataloged and uncataloged book collections and other collections when possible. This task is most effectively performed by staff members working in teams and should be conducted on a random basis. Proceeding through the collection in a predictable manner is not wise since it may allow thieves to temporarily replace stolen materials. A simultaneous reconciliation of the shelf list with the collection is also recommended. Inventories conducted even in small stages are valuable since they may reveal thefts (as well as misshelved books) and serve as a deterrent to any potential in-house thieves.
D. Maintain a shelf list, preferably in paper form for special collections, in a secure area. If the shelf list is electronic, it should be secure from tampering and a backup should be stored off-site. Since the shelf list indicates precisely where each item should be located, and because it contains copy-specific information about special collections materials, its maintenance and security are vital for detecting and recovering thefts.
E. Maintain up-to-date records of unlocated items and periodically recheck them; consider reporting missing items which are still unlocated after several searches to appropriate agencies (see II.3.B. below), noting their status as missing rather than stolen.
F. Keep careful, detailed records of deaccessions.  Refer to Appendix I for guidelines on marking deaccessioned material.

10. Legal and Procedural Responsibilities

The administrators of special collections and the library security officer must know laws relating to library and archival theft as well as institutional policies on apprehension of suspects and must convey this information to staff; they must also report thefts promptly to appropriate law enforcement agencies.  Staff members must be aware of their legal rights in stopping thefts without infringing on the rights of suspects.

Suggestion for implementation:

  • Library security officers and/or special collections administrators should take an active role in raising the awareness of other institutional officials, e.g., institutional legal officers, public safety officers, the director, et al., regarding the serious nature of materials theft, and urge the institution to resolve security threats and breaches and to seek the strictest punishment possible for those convicted of theft or other security violations.

11. Institutional and Legislative Support

A. Work with the institutional administration to ensure their support for the prosecution of thieves. This support may range from the collection of evidence to be shared with prosecutors, to direct participation with the prosecution before and during the trial.
B. Work with appropriate institutional, local, and state groups to lobby for strengthening state laws regarding library and archival thefts and for diligent prosecution of such crimes. (See Appendix II: “Draft of Model Legislation: Theft and Mutilation of Library Materials.”)

Part II: Responses to Theft

1.  Formulation of Action Plan

Like a disaster plan, an institutional plan for dealing with a theft will ensure a quick and well-organized response. The library security officer, in concert with appropriate administrators, public relations personnel, security personnel, law enforcement (local, state, and federal, if necessary), and legal counsel should formulate a course of action that includes:

  • Establishment of good working relations with law enforcement agencies—institutional, local, state, and/or federal—and determination of which agency has original jurisdiction over the institution (e.g., in-house security, local or state police, etc.) and under which circumstances they should be called. The institution should maintain a list of contacts in each level of law enforcement and discuss the plan of action with each. (See Resources Directory) The F.B.I., as well as U.S. Customs or Interpol, might become involved if stolen items are suspected of being smuggled into or out of the country.
  • Notification of appropriate stolen and missing books databases and other appropriate networks (see Appendix III)
  • Notification of local and regional booksellers and appropriate specialist sellers
  • Transfer of vulnerable items to a more secure location
  • Plans for working with an institution’s risk management office or insurance carrier to arrange for valuations of missing or damaged materials
  • Questioning of staff regarding any suspicious behavior by users or other persons
  • Preparation of regular communications to staff about progress in the case, consistent with the investigation’s integrity
  • Preparation of news releases and responses by authorized institutional representatives to questions posed by the news media; all staff should be instructed to refer inquiries to the authorized spokesperson
  • Maintenance of internal record of actions taken during the case's progress, from its discovery to its final disposition

2. Response to a Theft in Progress

If suspicions are sufficiently aroused, both a witness and the library security officer should immediately be summoned and if possible, the subject’s actions captured on a security camera.  After this point, it is necessary to follow institutional policies and applicable state laws concerning the incident.  Because of wide vagaries in both those variables, more specific recommendations about potential courses of action in this situation are problematic.  Whereas some actions, such as summoning security or the police may seem logical, they may in fact be counter to institutional policies.

  • If there is probable cause that a theft has occurred, the appropriate library staff should request that the police officer place the suspect under arrest. (Laws regarding grounds for arrest vary from state to state, and library staff should know the relevant state laws.) If there is evidence of theft, (e.g., materials hidden on the suspect's person), one should not agree to the suspect's release in return for the suspect's assurances that he or she will return to face charges. If the officer will not make an arrest, attempt to persuade the officer to detain the suspect until the officer can verify his/her identity and place of residence.

At the first opportunity, each person involved should describe in writing the suspect's physical appearance and obtain written accounts of the entire event from witnesses involved. This document may be needed later, especially if the case is prosecuted. Any materials the suspect has already turned back in should be immediately retrieved and inspected for loss or damage.

3. Subsequent Response

A. Gather Evidence

The library security officer will notify administrative officers, institutional security personnel, as well as appropriate law enforcement personnel, and will compile a list of missing items. (This does not mean that the entire collection needs to be inventoried.) Other units and local repositories should be alerted. However, after the immediate steps listed below have been taken, it is suggested that works similar to those that have been stolen be inventoried. In consultation with the personnel previously notified, one should gather all available evidence of theft (such as those items listed below), which must not be altered in any way:

  • Detailed, copy-specific descriptions of missing materials
  •  Any relevant video files or electronic security system logs
  • Chain of custody documentation for missing materials (including call slips or copies of electronic records)
  • Indications of unauthorized physical access to restricted areas
  • Report of any missing cataloging or circulation records and database tampering
  • Report on any indication of systematic patterns of loss of materials

B. Report to Appropriate Organizations and Agencies

The library should inform local booksellers of the institution’s collecting areas and establish a procedure for quickly informing them of any theft that has occurred in the repository. Thieves sometimes try to sell stolen property quickly, and sellers with knowledge of the collections can recognize, or at least be suspicious of, these genres of materials when they are offered.

Thefts or missing items which are believed to have been stolen should be immediately reported to appropriate electronic mailing lists or electronic media outlets (for a complete listing and details see Appendix III, Selected Resources Directory).  A search of auction sales records may be advisable if there is reason to believe the stolen material reached the market.

C. Assist with Prosecution

After the perpetrator is apprehended and brought to trial, the institution should establish lines of communication with the prosecution throughout the process of adjudication. This is particularly important if a plea-bargain and restitution are involved, since the institution may need to submit an account of damages. It is advisable for a representative to be present during the trial and especially during the sentencing phase, at which point the institution may wish to make a statement. This statement should refer to the seriousness of the crime, the damage to the cultural record, and its impact on the institution and its users. Such statements have been known to influence judges to impose harsher punishments.

D. Arrange for the Return of Located Materials

Once stolen materials are identified, it is necessary to confirm that they indeed belong to the institution; this process is facilitated by the record-keeping recommendations in Part I, section 9.

If the stolen materials reached the market and are in the hands of a new owner, recovery may be a difficult and time-consuming process. This is especially true if the materials are in a foreign country, where different legal systems and laws of title regarding the transfer of stolen goods are involved. Law enforcement and legal counsel will be able to provide advice on these issues. If a bookseller or auction house sold the items, its assistance should be enlisted in the recovery effort.

While in some cases authorities may be able to seize stolen items, in many cases this is not possible. Negotiation may be required, and it may prove necessary to compensate the current owner to obtain the timely return of the items. Depending on the circumstances, a bookseller or auction house should be requested to participate in the compensation, though this cannot be enforced.

Careful records of the stolen and returned items and all other aspects of the theft should be kept in perpetuity.

APPENDIX I - Guidelines for Marking Books, Manuscripts, and Other Special Collections Materials

I. Introduction

There has been much discussion within the special collections community regarding the appropriateness of permanently marking books, manuscripts, and other special collections materials. Failure to mark compromises security. Cases of theft show that clear identification of stolen material is vital if material, once recovered, is to be returned to its rightful owner. The following guidelines are intended to aid special collections in marking their materials, as well as to promote consistency and uniformity.

Even the most conservative marking program results in permanent alteration of materials. Choices concerning marking are likely to depend heavily on one's aesthetic judgment balanced against the need to secure materials from theft and to assist in their identification and recovery. Each repository will have to balance those competing needs. The ACRL/RBMS Security Committee recommends that libraries and other institutions use marking as part of their overall security procedures and that they attempt to strike a balance between the implications for deterrence (visibility, permanence) and the integrity of the documents (both physical and aesthetic).

II. General Recommendations

1.    That markings be both:
     a.    readily visible to the casual observer and
     b.    hidden and difficult to detect
2.    That readily visible marks be made in an approved form of permanent ink such as that available from the Library of Congress (
3.    That marks which are hidden or difficult to detect never be the only or primary types of marking
4.    That visible marks be placed so that they will cause significant damage to the aesthetic and commercial value of the item if they are removed
5.    That marks be placed directly on the material itself and not on an associated part from which the material may be separated
6.    That all marks unequivocally and clearly identify the repository

III. Discussion

1.    Readily visible marks are intended to deter potential thieves; hidden marks are intended to assist in the recovery of stolen materials. If only one type of mark is to be used, it should be of the readily visible type.
2.    Visible marks should be all but impossible to remove and should never consist of just a bookplate. Although not the only form of a visible mark, ink is perhaps the best medium for this purpose, so long as the ink meets current standards for permanence and conservation. There is still controversy surrounding which inks are best suited for this purpose, so a recommendation cannot go beyond urging those in charge of marking programs to be current on the latest developments in this field.
3.    Hidden marks should never be used as the only form of marking, because they are worthless in alerting others, such as booksellers, that material has been stolen. Hidden marks are intended only as supplements to visible marks.
4.    Much controversy has surrounded the placement of visible marks. Given the varying nature of special collections materials and the varying nature of beliefs and sentiments concerning what is proper placement for a visible mark, it is probably futile to overly prescribe placement of marks. It is recommended, however, that no position for a mark be rejected outright. Some repositories might, for example, be comfortable stamping the verso of a title page or the image area of a map; others might reject those options. However, regardless of where the visible mark is placed, it should not be in a position that it can be removed without leaving obvious evidence of its former presence.
5.    Marks of whatever type must be placed directly on the material itself. Marks placed only on a front pastedown in a book, on a portfolio that holds prints, or on some type of backing material are rendered useless if that element is separated from the item. Especially in the case of flat items, such as maps and broadsides, it is important that the marks be applied before any backing procedure is done.
6.    Marks should not be generic (e.g., "Rare Book Room," "Special Collections," "University Library," etc.) but should rather make plain the repository to which they refer. It is recommended that the visible marking consist of an institutional identification symbol.  

IV. Other Considerations

1.    Hidden marks do not have to be marks at all. They merely have to provide some positive ownership indication that is extremely difficult if not impossible to detect. Microembossers, for example, produce a mark that is difficult to detect.  Modern technology also provides non-invasive marking techniques, such as microphotography, that do not leave any mark on the item itself yet serve as positive identification. Other technologies, such as microtaggants, may also be appropriate for this purpose. It is vital if such marks are used, however, that the repository keep extremely accurate records of such marks so that they can be readily found for identification purposes if the need arises to do so. Generic secret marking systems, such as underlining a word on page 13 of every book, should be avoided as the sole means of such marks.
2.    Repositories should never attempt to remove marks, even in the event that the material is deaccessioned. No system has yet been devised for canceling marks that cannot be imitated with relative ease by thieves, and there seems to be no alternative but to assume permanent responsibility for one's mark on a book, manuscript, or other document. Permanent records should be kept of deaccessioned materials, whether marked or unmarked, and the material itself when released should be accompanied by a document conveying ownership. It is advisable to place stamps or notes in items indicating that they have been deaccessioned, but no attempt should be made to cancel or remove previous ownership marks.
3.    Marks should be applied to all items when they are accepted into the collection. It is dangerous to send unmarked items into storage or a cataloging backlog, where they may remain for years with no indication that the repository owns them. Despite the fact that some items may present extremely difficult and complicated decisions about marking, the process should never be deferred. It is strongly recommended that programs also be instituted to mark retrospectively materials already in the collections.
4.    Care must be taken to ensure that all discrete or removable parts are marked. It is recommended that each separate plate, map, chart, or other such item in a printed volume be marked individually. Volumes of bound manuscripts and collections of individual manuscripts present a similar problem; whenever possible, discrete items in such collections should also be marked.

APPENDIX II - Draft of Model Legislation: Theft and Mutilation of Library Materials

The draft of proposed legislation presented below may have to be modified in order to conform with federal and state laws regarding search and seizure. Also, the recourse to civil law that is available to a detained suspect may differ from state to state, and the draft legislation may have to be modified in order to meet such potential challenges. However, the wording of definitions should be adhered to; they have been formulated with the assistance of legal counsel. Nationwide conformity to the definition of essential terminology in criminal legislation is desirable.

Declaration of purpose

Because of the rising incidence of library theft and mutilation of library materials, libraries are suffering serious losses of books and other library property. In order to assure that research materials are available for public use, it is the policy of this state to provide libraries and their employees and agents with legal protection to ensure security for their collections. It is the policy of this state to affirm that local, state, and federal prosecution of crimes affecting books or other library property is executed with the same degree of diligence as is exercised in prosecution of crimes affecting other forms of property. Federal statute pertaining to stolen property is designed not only to implement federal-state cooperation in apprehending and punishing criminals who utilize, or cause to be utilized, channels of interstate commerce for transportation of property of which the owner has been wrongfully deprived, but also to deter original theft.

Definition of terms

Library: means any public library; any library of an educational, benevolent, hereditary, historical, or eleemosynary institution, organization, or society; any museum; any repository of public or institutional records.

Property: means any book, plate, picture, photograph, print, painting, drawing, map, newspaper, magazine, pamphlet, broadside, manuscript, document, letter, public record, microform, sound recording, audiovisual material in any format, magnetic or other tape, catalog card or catalog record, electronic data processing record, artifact, or other documentary, written, or printed materials, or equipment, regardless of physical form or characteristics, belonging to, on loan to, or otherwise in the custody of a library.

Proposed wording

Section I.a.
Any person who willfully, maliciously, or wantonly writes upon, injures, defaces, tears, cuts, mutilates, or destroys any book, document, or other library property belonging to, on loan to, or otherwise in the custody of a library is guilty of a crime.

Section I.b.
The willful concealment of a book or other library property upon the person or among the belongings of the person or concealed upon the person or among the belongings of another while still on the premises of a library shall be considered prima facie evidence of intent to commit larceny thereof.

Section I.c.
The willful removal of a book or other library property in contravention of library regulations shall be considered prima facie evidence of intent to commit larceny thereof.

Section I.d.
The willful alteration or destruction of library ownership records, electronic or card catalog records retained apart from or applied directly to a book or other library property shall be considered prima facie evidence of intent to commit larceny of a book or other library property.

Section II.a.
An adult agent or employee of a library or that library's parent institution, whether or not that employee or agent is part of a security force, who has reasonable grounds to suspect that a person committed, was committing, or was attempting to commit the acts described in Section I may detain the suspect. Immediately upon detention, the library employee shall identify himself/herself and state the reason for his/her action. If, after the initial confrontation with the suspect, the adult agent or library employee has reasonable grounds to believe that at the time of detention that the person committed, was committing, or was attempting to commit the crimes set forth in Section I, said employee or agent may detain such a person for a time sufficient to summon a peace officer to the library. Said detention must be accomplished in a reasonable manner without unreasonable restraints or excessive force and may take place only on the premises of the library where the alleged crime occurred. Library premises include the interior of a building, structure, or other enclosure in which a library facility is located; the exterior appurtenances to such building structure, or other enclosure; and the land on which such building, structure, or other enclosure is located. Any person so detained by an employee or agent of a library shall promptly be asked to identify himself/herself by name and address. Once placed under detention, the suspect shall not be required to provide any other information nor shall any written and/or signed statement be elicited from the suspect until a police officer has taken the suspect into custody. The said employee or agent may, however, examine said property which the employee or agent has reasonable grounds to believe was unlawfully taken as set forth in Section I.b and/or I.c, or injured or destroyed as set forth in Section I.a and/or I.d. Should the detained suspect refuse to surrender the item for examination, a search may be made only of packages, shopping bags, handbags, or other property in the immediate possession of the person detained; no clothing worn by the suspect may be searched.

The activation of an electronic article surveillance device as a result of a person exiting the premises or an area within the premises of a library where an electronic article surveillance device is located shall constitute probable cause for the detention of such person by such library or agent or employee of the library, provided that such person is detained only in a reasonable manner and only for such time as is necessary for an inquiry into the circumstances surrounding the activation of the device, and provided that clear and visible notice is posted at each exit and location within the premises where such device is located indicating the presence of an anti-theft device. For purposes of this section, “electronic article surveillance device” means an electronic device designed and operated for the purpose of detecting the removal from the premises or a protected area within such premises, of any specially marked or tagged book or other library property.

Section II.b.
For the purposes of Section II.a, "reasonable grounds" shall include, but not be limited to, knowledge that a person has concealed or injured a book or other library property while on the premises of the library or the inability of the suspect to produce the library material for which there is a document proving that person had used but had not returned said material.

Section II.c.
In detaining a person who the employee or agent of the library has reasonable grounds to believe has committed, was committing, or was attempting to commit any of the crimes set forth in Section I, the said employee or agent may use a reasonable amount of non-deadly force when and only when such force is necessary to protect the employee or agent or to prevent the escape of the person being detained or the loss of the library's property.

Section III.
An adult agent or employee of a library who stops, detains, and/or causes the arrest of any person pursuant to Section II shall not be held civilly liable for false arrest, false imprisonment, unlawful detention, assault, battery, defamation of character, malicious prosecution, or invasion of civil rights of the person stopped, detained, and/or arrested, provided that in stopping, detaining, or causing the arrest of the person, the adult agent or employee had at the time of the stopping, detention, or arrest reasonable grounds to believe that the person had committed, was committing, or was attempting to commit any of the crimes set forth in Section I.

Section IV.
The fair market value of property affected by crimes set forth in Section I determines the class of offense: value under $500 constitutes a misdemeanor; $500-$5,000 a Class I felony; above $5,000, a Class II felony.

The aggregate value of all property referred to in a single indictment shall constitute the value thereof.

Section V.
A copy or abstract of this act shall be posted and prominently displayed in all libraries.

Section VI.
This act shall take effect upon passage.

APPENDIX III - Selected Resources Directory 

I. Publications

ACRL Code of Ethics for Special Collections Librarians (2003),

ACRL. Guidelines on the Selection and Transfer of Materials from General Collections to Special Collections (2016),

ACRL/RBMS Guidelines for Interlibrary and Exhibition Loan of Special Collections Materials (2012),

American Library Association Map and Geography Round Table. Map Collection Security Guidelines (June 2010),

Berger, Sidney E. Rare Books and Special Collections. Chicago : Neal-Schuman, An imprint of the American Library Association, 2014. ISBN: 9781555709648; 1555709648.

Society of American Archivists. Protecting Your Collections: A Manual of Archival Security (1995). ISBN: 0-931828-83-X.

Thefts of Early Maps and Books,
Theimer, Kate (editor). “A Thief in Our Midst: Special Collections, Archives and Insider Theft” In: Management: Innovative Practices for Archives and Special Collections. Lanham: Rowman and Littlefield, 2014. ISBN: 9780810890954.

Wilkie, Everett C. (editor). Guide to Security Considerations and Practices for Rare Book, Manuscript and Special Collection Libraries. ACRL, 2011. ISBN: 9780838985922.

II. Security Resources

ACRL/RBMS Security Committee

Archives & Archivists Electronic Discussion List,; (October 2006 to present); (April 1993 to September 2006).

Exlibris electronic discussion list,; subscribe at

Federal Bureau of Investigation, Art Theft Program,

International Association of Professional Security Consultants, 

Saving Antiquities for Everyone (SAFE),

Society of American Archivists,

III. Marking Technology

For more information about several of the currently available marking technologies, see the following web sites:




IV. Addresses for Reporting Thefts 

Antiquarian Booksellers Association of America,

Art Loss Register,

ILAB Stolen Books Database,


Museum Security Network,

V. Disaster Preparedness

Smithsonian Institution Staff Disaster Preparedness Procedures,

Northeast Document Conservation Center,

About the Guidelines

The guidelines were completed by the RBMS Security Committee in 2008 [and approved by ACRL in 2009]. It replaces the separate “Guidelines for the Security of Rare Books, Manuscripts, and Other Special Collections” and “Guidelines Regarding Thefts in Libraries.” The guidelines were revised in 2018 and the revision approved by the ACRL Board of Directors in January 2019.