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Today's Stewardship Challenge

1. StewardshipThe Janus Factor
Nancy M. Cline

Stewardship is a word that is appearing with some frequency in a variety of management contexts. Sometimes people ask whether it is a "softer" (or perhaps more academically respectable) term than "administration." I think not. Stewardship is the responsible use of resources; it is synonymous with managing, administering. If anything, the word implies that the responsibilities extend beyond the tenure of one single individual, that stewardship extends "over time and over generations," an appropriate expectation in the realm of cultural resources.

In using the term "Janus Factor," I want to consider the dual nature of stewardship. Most simply, the word "janus" means "having a dual function or purpose." But it is for another reason that I chose the image of Janus—the god in Roman mythology who is represented with two faces, one facing to the front and the other to the back—to describe stewardship. For Janus was "the god of gates," the guardian of doors and gates, and is often considered to preside over beginnings.

Like Janus, stewardship can be represented with two faces, one looking back upon all that has been garnered over decades and centuries and another that faces forward, anticipating, planning, preparing, and thinking strategically. Likewise, the Janus image portrays the need for security and preservation to work closely together in presiding over our contemporary "gates," so that our institutions can effectively provide stewardship of our cultural resources and ensure that they will be accessible for future generations.

I have chosen Janus because I want to think about this double-faced image in touching on some of the dichotomies we must deal with in improving our stewardship. Our roles as stewards of cultural heritage are full of both conflicting and complementary forces, ranging from the expectations of those who work in our institutions to those external constituencies whose expectations may affect public policy, legislation, institutional priorities, and governance of academic and cultural institutions.

Can most of us say that we know our role in stewarding cultural heritage? Is it at the top of the list of your administrative or managerial responsibilities? Do others acknowledge this role? Where do preservation and security fit into your strategic vision for your institution? Do you know the value of the collections and facilities within your purview? Does your staff know their value? Do you know the most valuable items or parts of your collections?

If an emergency forced you to abandon the majority of your collections, is it clear which ones should be saved? Do you have an idea what you would spend to restore or recover items? Do your budgetary commitments for the care of these collections match your rhetoric about how excellent or invaluable they are? Are there conflicts with internal institutional expectations (such as saving money on security) and the expectations of donors, scholars, or the broader public?

The Janus Factor is about leadership, about making a difference and managing risk while dealing with ambiguity. It is about maintaining focus in the midst of great cultural change. It is about being prepared for various eventualities and about expecting the unexpected. We all have strategic choices. We have the opportunity to set the expectations for an institution, to convey principles, to direct budget resources, and, perhaps most important, to raise a higher level of attention to the critical areas of preservation and security. This is not only a national priority. Given the many interrelationships among cultural and educational institutions around the globe, our strategic choices and our future actions will have an international impact.

But first, we must look at the context in which we function. Libraries exist in the continuous tension generated by the desire to provide access for users and the need to protect and preserve the collections. In most libraries, we make every effort to welcome users, though some private libraries may limit their services to a defined group of users. In libraries, guards and other security personnel generally are not evident in large numbers. Many libraries are still regarded as quiet havens for readers, safe places for research. Yet beneath a surface tranquillity, every day the collections are exposed to use from hundreds of readers and researchers, whose habits may be counterproductive to goals of preservation programs or who ignore basic concepts of security.

The challenge is to balance conflicting goals, to make materials as open and accessible as possible and at the same time to ensure that they will last for future generations. Our collections include not only books but also maps, microform materials, manuscripts, photographs, electronic resources, prints, videos, compact discs, and items in other formats. All of these formats present different vulnerabilities, different risks. Together, they hold the continuum of recorded knowledge of humankind, and, for any specific institution, they constitute a great cumulative investment, a major asset of the institution.

Despite their value, these collections may not be treated as the major investment they are. Even if the collections are closed to library patrons, staff members often work in areas located in the very midst of valuable collections. We too often assume that all our employees share a commitment to the collections and allow them to come and go through collection areas whenever needed, despite the fact that we know losses often result from internal theft. No one should be above checking. No one, not even the director, should be exempt from basic security practices.

All too often, in protecting our collections, we assume that staff members know what to look for, how to anticipate problems, how to intervene, and how to call for professional assistance when their suspicions are triggered. Although this may be a comforting assumption, staff can also be naive, anxious to assist researchers, and unlikely to identify troublesome situations or to notice unusual behaviors. Staff members may want to protect the privacy of library users, to the extent that some may be liberal in the forms of identification required in issuing privileges or likely to bend the rules for passwords so users can work directly with databases. If they do notice something odd, they may assume that security staff should not be interrupted with minor issues.

Reference skills of librarians and specialists also are likely to conflict with the need for controlling information at the scene of a crime. The propensity to find everything, inform users, and delve into details may run counter to the work of law enforcement professionals or emergency response teams. And much as we do not want to offend tourists and visitors, photography of building interiors should be strictly forbidden. Visitors photographing architectural details like doors, windows, and staircases could be documenting access, posing a threat to security.

Is it a myth that library staff members are not the best people to identify suspicious behavior? Miles Harvey in his book The Island of Lost Maps documents the story of map thief Gilbert Bland.

The author asserts, "He was no stranger to libraries." Not only did Bland use libraries as sources for maps, but he also used them as places to track down names of people who had died in childhood so he could create new identities for himself. Eventually, he was found out. His odd behavior and the materials he was using finally caught the attention of staff members in the Peabody Library at Johns Hopkins University. There, he had presented a fake University of Florida identification card in the name of James Perry. Throughout his many library visits across the country, he had also used the names James J. Edwards, James Morgan, Jason Pike, Jack Arnett, Richard M. Olinger, John David Rosche, Steven M. Spradling, James Bland, and Gilbert Anthony Bland (his given name was Gilbert Lee Joseph Bland, Jr.). [1] Bland had managed to blend in at many places, not arousing anyone's concern. Even when finally apprehended, he was very nearly let go, for the perception of what he had done struck the police very differently from the way it did the librarians.

"No wonder the officers did not seem particularly concerned about the meek and skittish man they found at the library. Well-dressed, polite, and obviously humiliated, he looked about as much like a menace to society as the Peabody Library looked to be a crack house. And after all, what had he allegedly done? Taken a few pages out of a book? Stolen four sheets of paper? There were dangerous people out there—crazy, desperate, dangerous people with guns. This poor guy hardly seemed worth the bother." [2]

When caught with the stolen maps, he offered to pay the library to repair the damaged books, and the police seemed to think this was a good deal.

Bland hit nineteen libraries, removing maps from antique atlases, from Baltimore to British Columbia. No one at these libraries had called the police, for no one had noticed their maps had been taken. And Bland nearly escaped with his offer to pay for the repairs.

When the discoveries were made known, people who had met Bland described him as "clean-cut, quiet, polite, mild mannered." [3] He was just like so many people who come and go often in our libraries.

In library after library, neither the man nor his handiwork had been noticed. Not only that, another astonishing thing became clear. Not all the libraries from which he had stolen materials had records of ownership. The security of collections begins with accurate bibliographic records, ownership marks, and inventory practices. Security is built on many routine tasks conducted in many different parts of the library.

The work of many people can be destroyed in any one instance when library or museum objects are stolen or damaged. Building collections—selecting, acquiring, and cataloging items—can be a painstaking process, continued over decades. Often, soon after books are published, they may disappear from the marketplace, rendering them irreplaceable, or nearly so. The value of an entire collection can be greatly diminished when any one part is taken or mutilated. Destroying years of investment can take only seconds.

As we consider our roles as stewards of our cultural heritage, we must ponder not only how to secure our collections from theft and mutilation but also how to preserve them. Preservation and security are inseparable.

"Preservation is the art of managing risk to the intellectual and physical heritage of a community and all members of that community have a stake in it. Risk management is dynamic, and, in practice, preservation becomes an ever-changing assessment of value and endangerment." Abby Smith, in The Future of the Past: Preservation in American Research Libraries calls for collaboration between scholars and librarians as "the best and most responsible way to ensure that the legacy we have inherited, and to which we contribute, will survive into the future." [4]

"Preservation becomes an ever-changing assessment of value and endangerment." So what then is security but an integral part of preservation? Daily, the running of a library involves a continuum of choices and decisions (some conscious or deliberate, some instinctive or accidental), and when all are put together, our continuous involvement with both preservation and security is evident. One set of issues emerges from the moment the doors open in the morning, but the issues do not go away when the facilities are locked up at the end of the day. Then, our attention segues to different concerns. When the last janitor has shut off the lights and locked all the doors, one is still not spared all the possible accidental, environmental, or malicious threats. Pipes may leak or burst, vents can draw in fumes. The voracious appetites of bugs and rodents always present a potential hazard. Last, there is the threat posed by human beings themselves—say, the explosive or glue thrown into the book return slot.

Preservation and security frequently are set up as separate programs in different parts of the organization, each comprising many separate actions, policies, and processes. These units may easily wind up with a gulf between them, motivated by different pressures, staff working in different shifts, and competition for budget, respect, and administrative commitment. Greater benefit, however, may accrue to the institution if security and preservation work together. As an example, the Harvard College Library puts preservation, security, facilities, and information technology services under one senior administrator. A strategic partnering exists among the several units, so that they are called by one of my colleagues "the life support systems for the libraries."

As we consider the stewardship of our collections, we must incorporate risk management in our decision making. Risk management is not just something for us to carry around in our heads. Rather, it requires conscious and continuous planning, analysis of choices, and documented procedures for action. Risk management is not an event that you do and set aside, but it is a constant process and must engage the various parts of the institution.

Recent renovations at one of Harvard's libraries turned up an envelope full of important keys in a vault that had not been used for several decades. Did someone assume that there would always be someone else to remember that the keys were there and what those keys unlocked? Suddenly finding sets of keys and not knowing what they might still open made us realize that our organization had been operating with various gaps in our security. I began to take stock of what I had assumed about people around me. I had assumed they knew it was important to care about certain things and to know whether or not some procedure was important, even though we had never specifically discussed, outlined, or defined all these things. Fortunately, we had a shared understanding about security, but we recognized a need to formalize and codify many of our commitments and priorities.

Managers should not assume that everyone accepts that preservation and security are key priorities throughout the organization. All too often, people in our organizations will readily label these concerns as someone else's problem.

Who "owns" security and preservation? Neither a preservation unit nor a security office can carry out its work as an independent contributor. Instead, each needs the support, co-operation, and behavioral and procedural change from everyone in the organization in order to be successful.

Dramatic events raise awareness of security and preservation issues. The big heists, the major cases, or the sensational thefts bring attention, but what about the other less dramatic incidents? Who cares about protecting against the small thefts, or the student observed defacing a book by highlighting or writing in it? When someone is apprehended with just a few books from our stacks that appear to have been stolen, do we look the other way? Do we shrug and say. "Well, at least they were not rare books?" Or, do we say. "At least we got them back?" Do we prosecute? Do we insist that fees be paid? Do we have any rules that matter? What do our reference librarians do when someone reports suspicious behavior? Do staff know what to do in such instances? Are they afraid to "bother" the police?

Likewise, do employees know how to respond when they find damaged or wet books? Do they just shrug and say. "It looks like it will hold up a bit longer?" Do they know whom to notify when they find damaged items and where to send them for repair? Are they prepared to explain to users that the condition of the book matters? Are shelvers trained to watch for mold and to respond promptly? Ignoring small problems can result in amazingly costly repairs at later stages. So it is not only "preservation" staff members who have a role in the care and well-being of the collections, but practically everyone in the library.

Small problems can grow into larger ones with security as well. Even the largest security budget can be compromised if the mailroom employees leave doors ajar to make it easier to push the cart in and out or if everyone is tolerant of Sam from the acquisitions department. We all know that he loves these collections. His loyalty is unquestioned. He works late every Friday—you have to almost throw him out of the place.

Have we factored issues such as these into our security and preservation plans? Beyond defining them as a priority, we must also ensure that all parts of the organization understand and contribute to the security and preservation of the collections. If preservation already benefits from the collaboration among preservation experts, curators, bibliographers, faculty, and others, then why should not security benefit from broad collaboration within the organization?

Libraries must deal with the inherent conflict between creating access for users and keeping their holdings secure, and they must achieve a balance between trust and watchfulness.

When faced with a theft, how do you measure the loss, and how do you set a value on the damage? How do you deal with the perception that it is "just a few pages" when the missing maps or illustrations are integral to the value of the book? When you first acquire an item for a collection, do you know whether it will become a valuable item? Perhaps the value is known to be high so it goes to a rare books area, where it is shelved with thousands of other valuable items. But the value of many items, such as collections of leaflets from Tiananmen Square, political posters from Israel, and manuscripts and correspondence from literary figures, can change dramatically over time. The prices of rare books seem to rise dramatically, making it difficult to set an economic value on a stolen item. Yet when a theft occurs, this question must be faced, even though the greatest impact is beyond the economic value.

The cultural value of these types of losses is described in an article in the 1999 Gazette of the Grolier Club, "The Cultural Value of Books: United States of America v. Daniel Spiegelman, Defendant," by Judge Lewis A. Kaplan, relating to a theft of manuscripts from Columbia University. [5]

In her introduction to the article, Jean Ashton notes that courts frequently fail to recognize the impact of such thefts, and that these are serious crimes having consequences that could extend well beyond any monetary loss to the institution. She cites the 1998 opinion of Judge Kaplan in the Columbia case, an opinion that begins, "Great research libraries are repositories of our social, cultural, and scientific heritage. Their rare books and manuscripts are vital to understanding the world and often are irreplaceable objects of study for scholars who add to our knowledge of ourselves and our environment.

In a section on the impact of the Columbia theft, Kaplan goes on to say. "The theft of these items concededly caused economic loss to their owner, Columbia University. But the theft had an impact different in kind from a loss of money or other easily replaceable property, for these materials have value to the Columbia academic community and other scholars and, through them, to society at large that cannot be measured in economic terms alone."

I encourage you to read this article. Ashton was called upon at the hearing to elaborate on the value of an item, and she said, "The auction or appraised value is a value that is put on it by people who deal in the buying and selling of manuscripts, and that value fluctuates according to what happens to be fashionable at the time . . . scholarly value would be entirely separate."

When a loss occurs, setting the value of the missing materials is difficult. At Columbia, "appraisers were unwilling to give detailed appraisals because the materials were not there for them to examine." We are dealing now with a similar situation at the Harvard-Yenching Library. The setting of values in a theft like this becomes almost theoretical. Who knows what someone might pay for some of these rare items? Further, how do we determine the impact upon scholars and their careers?

Historically, libraries and archives have often gone to great lengths to keep silent about thefts, or to suppress information for fear of causing concern to donors. Greater openness has its benefits, however. Susan Allen in a recent article on library theft states, "Law enforcement personnel know from experience that publicity about a case will stop a thief from stealing further. The question is no longer a question of whether to notify." [6] It is now considered good practice to get the word out promptly because it may benefit other institutions, prevent additional thefts from occurring, and help one's own staff to deal with the loss. In some instances, however, advice from law enforcement professionals may argue to the contrary, where there may be reason to recommend maintaining silence or confidentiality for a period of time to build a case.

Our job is to know well before an event occurs which individuals must be involved in a response and what their respective roles are to be. It should be clear who will handle communication with the media, who is in charge of the investigation, and who needs to know which level of detail about the incident—and then to have all those people work together. By anticipating various scenarios in advance, there will be less likelihood of inept handling of the media or of the relationships with other parts of the institution, donors, or others. The actions taken in the first few hours after you realize a theft has occurred can be critical to the long-term impact on the institution. There is a stigma attached to having been a victim of theft. Often, the institution wants to avoid the negative publicity, but as many can attest, it is better to be prepared for publicity and, if possible, use it to your advantage.

How important is stewardship? To return to the cultural value of these collections, we see that the Kaplan decision states, "Spiegelman intentionally or knowingly risked inflicting, and inflicted, substantial harm not only upon his immediate victims, Columbia University and its professors and students, but also upon the greater academic community and society as a whole. In callously stealing, mutilating, and destroying rare and unique elements of our common intellectual heritage, Spiegelman did not simply aim to divest Columbia University of $1.3 million worth of physical property. He risked stunting, and probably stunted, the growth of human knowledge to the detriment of us all."

If a member of the judicial system and curators of rare collections can so well describe the impact of such thefts, how can we not raise our own efforts to a higher level? This calls for leadership from within each institution and for greater attention within the various professions that work in our libraries. There is much to learn from the past, yet we also have new issues to face, particularly in the digital environment, where there are growing concerns about network security and protection of digital content.

Much work needs to take place within each institution, framed according to its mission and responsive to its constituencies. We must first make security and preservation strategic priorities for our organizations so that managers and staff can carry out their responsibilities accordingly.

If the collections are among the institution's most valued assets, does the budget reflect appropriate levels of funding for preservation and security? Do you have policies for dealing with staff as well as with users whose behavior or actions are suspicious? Are you prepared to act when faced with evidence of altered bibliographic or order records? Do you have a plan for dealing with reports of theft or mutilation? When thefts occur, is the first telephone call to the police, or the university, or legal counsel, or the media? Will you allow photographs or video of the crime scene? Are staff allowed to give interviews? What do you do when a trusted book dealer calls with an item that has raised suspicion? What do you do if someone offers to recover your missing items for a "finder's fee?" What is your plan of action when an employee loses a key to the building? What are you doing to create solid working relationships with other institutional and law enforcement offices prior to needing them in an emergency?

Are your collections marked for ownership? Is there a record of those marks? Is there a catalog or other source through which you can verify ownership? Do you have records of inventories? Do you know where the rarest and most vulnerable materials are within your collections? Do you have a plan for transferring items from the stacks to locked areas when their value increases? When did you last assess the facilities? Who is aware of their strengths and vulnerabilities in the event of a disaster, including theft?

Well-trained, observant employees are key players. They are often the first ones to notice patterns or unusual behavior. If someone appears at an odd time claiming to be with "HVAC," elevator repair, or fire safety, will employees know the forms of identification to expect?

Yes, these are tedious details—but it is on the smallest of details that the success of preservation and security programs are built. It brings to mind the words of Benjamin Franklin, writing in Poor Richard's Almanac in 1757: "A little neglect may breed great mischief.., for want of a nail the shoe was lost; for want of a shoe the horse was lost; for want of a horse the rider was lost."

These times call for bold leadership, new vision, and strategic thinking. The stewardship of cultural resources may be the epic challenge for the new millennium. We strive to have libraries, museums, and other cultural institutions that are both inviting and secure, that can foster access and use for education and research while preventing theft and malicious damage to some of the world's most valuable assets.

As stewards of the cultural past, we are answerable to future generations.

Our actions—as well as our inaction—form the basis for others to judge how well we are succeeding at our posts. As stewards of some of the most significant collections of accumulated knowledge and culture in the world, we must improve the ways in which our institutions manage risk.

We must provide the leadership that will make a difference, leadership that will provide focus in the midst of great cultural change. We must set high expectations and develop strong plans for our own institutions and, at the same time, work to increase the commitment to preservation and security among other cultural and educational institutions, for none of us can succeed alone.

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  The Library of Congress >> To Preserve and Protect
   September 15, 2008
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