by A. M. C. Knutsson
Reporting and retracing stolen books might to the uninitiated seem like an herculean mission, with vast edition runs and reproductions it can seem impossible to identify a stolen copy even if it would re-emerge on the market. However, as with most objects years of love and use have set their marks also on these once indistinguishable edition copies and the people involved with the books can often recognize ‘their’ copy at a glance. Here we shall consider the leading stolen book database stolen-book.org, which works with the venerable task of reuniting books with their owners.
Stolen-book.org is the largest specialized stolen book database currently in existence and most dealers and major auction houses rely on their email alerts in order to keep up with stolen printed material and manuscripts. There are some smaller, national lost-book databases but with their limited scope and their haphazard maintenance they do not pose a considerable competition to stolen-book.org.
Stolen-book.org was instigated as part of the main ILAB (International League of Antiquarian Booksellers) website in 2010 when that website was redesigned and the older version of stolen-book was restructured. This worldwide database covers maps and documents as well as full books. It builds on information submitted by ILAB affiliates, currently over 1850 members all over the globe. Members can submit information on stolen books through a private section on the site. A basic template is provided, which included sections for specifics of binding, ex libris or provenance characteristics. The editor reviews the submitted forms and frequently updates the database, either daily or several times a day. Usually an email is issued to all affiliates a few minutes after a new stolen book posting informing of newly conducted thefts.
Public access to Stolen-book.org is free access for basic details of stolen goods. However, the bookseller’s section, which contains more in-depth information, requires a login and is available only to affiliates.
In addition to bookseller’s loss reports, Stolen-book.org includes thefts from public libraries and other book and document holding institutions.
Last November ILAB was invited to the IFLA (International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions) security conference with the aim to strengthen ties between institutional libraries and to make librarians realize that the main motive behind library thefts is to make a monetary profit. Therefore, quick co-operation and interchange of information between libraries and law-enforcement agencies through ILAB and stolen-book.org would improve chances of fast returns of stolen property.
With Special thanks to Gonzalo Fernandez Pontes, ILAB Security Chair, for supplying the information about Stolen-book.org.