The Rare-Book Thief Who Looted College Libraries in the ’80s – Atlas Obscura

Our post today may not be a very funny “Friday Fun” item, but it sure is strange and interesting.

Read on about the man who eluded librarians, library security, and police for years, stealing nearly half a million dollars worth of rare books from college and seminary libraries, wiping away marks of previous ownership, and reselling them to unsuspecting booksellers.

Below is the beginning of this tale of library-book terror, followed by a picture of one of the 19th-century travel books the clever cleptomaniac confiscated.

On the evening of December 7, 1981, Dianne Melnychuk, serials librarian at the Haas Library at Muhlenberg College in Allentown, Pennsylvania, noticed an unfamiliar gray-haired man of early middle age lingering around the card catalog near her desk. He had attempted to appear inconspicuous by way of nondescript, almost slovenly dress, but at almost six-and-a-half feet tall, with a 225-pound frame, he stood out.

Something about him rang a bell. Melnychuk discreetly followed him up to the sixth level of the stacks, and carefully observed him from the end of a row of shelving. In spite of the glasses he wore that evening, his face clicked in her memory.

A little later the article tells us more about this infamous book thief and how he plied his trade:

Far from casual, James Shinn’s approach was premeditated. It is believed that he would compile a “want list” of valuable books by reading library journals to find titles of value. Next, he would scan the National Union Catalog to determine which libraries held the desired items. He made an extensive study of library security techniques that allowed him to accumulate tools and tricks to avoid them. And he rarely bothered with a book valued under $300.

To finish reading this fascinating story, visit the link below.

Source: The Rare-Book Thief Who Looted College Libraries in the ’80s – Atlas Obscura

Published in: on August 25, 2017 at 4:02 PM  Leave a Comment  

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