31 August 2011

Archivists check collections in wake of Md. Theft

If you didn’t catch the news last month, a presidential historian was charged with stealing millions of dollars in documents from a historical society in Baltimore.

“Archivists are combing their collections to make sure they're not missing artifacts after a presidential historian was charged this month with stealing millions of dollars in documents from a historical society in Baltimore. Already, the accused author's name has turned up again in the investigation of a George Washington letter that went missing in Philadelphia.

Before the accusations, Barry Landau had helped plan special events for several presidents and drew upon his collection of souvenirs to write a coffee-table book about meals in the White House. He has visited archives in several cities to do research on the presidents.” …

Read the full article. A follow-up article provides additional details.

So, when you do visit an archives, repository or library and wonder why you can bring in less and less and why there seem to be more stringent security measures in place, it is because there are still individuals and a market place which crave the personal possession of so-called valuable documents.  Once documents are no longer available via public archives and repositories, there is an increased chance that they will eventually be lost or at least made un-accessible to researchers.

I think of how many times I have seen references to family bibles, which clearly existed at some point, and which appear to no longer be extant.  Unfortunately, not all individuals or institutions place the same value on “family papers” as archivists and genealogists do.  Because of that, you will never find me griping at the security measures put in place to help make sure that the collected documents remain at an archive where I can access them. Though, I do sometimes wish there were better pencil sharpeners to be found!

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