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Vandalism at New York Public Library


New York Public Library is a business but a business like no other. The library’s sole purpose is to transact in materials not money. Ours is a business based on trust. We lend. The library has millions of dollars in materials and we trust that the people who borrow these materials will return what they take. We hope in as good as condition as possible. Naturally there is wear, that is expected.

But there are people who use the library for other reasons. They want to destroy, deface and degrade. Our premise of trust is broken often by people who for selfish reasons harm what we offer simply because they can. Unless we catch them, the destruction continues. Sometimes we are lucky. Sometimes we can catch the person who covets the picture within a book and will willingly, guiltlessly slice it right out of the page. Vandalism of materials is a wordless crime and most of the time these wanton acts go unsolved, unpunished.

I work on the 3rd floor in the Language and Literature department at the Mid-Manhattan Library. The floor is often crowded with people on any given day. The aisles are often occupied with people browsing the shelves. For the most part everyone looks as they should, even the ones we know to be homeless. They too have a need for the library and it isn’t just to be in a safe environment. The ones I have observed seem to have an insatiable need to read and they do. I don’t peg them as wanting to hurt the library. Sadly there is another sinister element who occupies the floor and probably the others floors as well. They are people who look like you and I, but their motives are different from the rest of us at the library. They are out to destroy what many of us feel is sacred, trust.

The Dictionary of Literary Biography is a massive reference work. It occupies one side of a set of book shelves, consisting of many bays. It is a comprehensive and vital resource and consulted often. My colleagues and I have discovered the DLB to be not only a well used source for researchers, but by others whose sole purpose is to vandalize. For the criminal whose intent is harm, the DLB is a tableau waiting to receive its dastardly due.

The damage to the books is not outwardly noticeable. But if you are the unlucky one who happens to take one of the hurt books, the crime suddenly becomes horribly real. Upon opening the book you will discover the pages have been mangled, aggressively mangled. Page after page you discover the damage that has been put upon the book. Whatever the original purpose for consulting the DLB, or any other book that has suffered the same fate, is replaced with shock, sadness and frustration. The pages from the bottom are mashed and bent, scarred for life. The words that once laid smoothly across the clean white page are bent, buckled and ugly. Pages that soundlessly turned now make crinkled and sometimes tearing sounds. The damage done to these books and others is from the bottom up. Short, sharp jabs thrust into the pages and hundreds of pages are ruined. The brutality suffered by these book is violent and it is wrenching. I surmise the object must be something like a screwdriver. The destruction up these books and many others is awful. What is worse is the assault and destruction on our notion of trust, for those who work at the library and for those use the library.

Fortunately the DLB can also be found as an online database at the NYPL website. An NYPL library card is needed to access this database.

A tiny article from The NYTimes from 1875

A class project by Sandra Hart for the University of Alberta's MLS program

A blog entry by Tom Cremers from Google Groups - Museum Security, titled Theft and Vandalism: A Real Threat to Preservation


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Hard to catch - but not impossible.

Hi. At last an area upon which I am well qualified to comment. Qualified by being an investigator of such matters in non-cultural institutions. But bearing in mind this from your linked page: "After a number of books, periodicals, and other holdings in the Library of Congress were discovered to have been maliciously damaged during a period between January and May of 1993, investigations revealed that a library worked had been damaging books and other holdings intentionally. Further investigations revealed that a number of separate incidents of similar nature had likely occurred at various times in the past which had been intentionally covered up (Flaff, 1995)." Best I not set out my tips here. If you want some ideas, email me.

I would like to have some

I would like to have some ideas. I am interested, not that I can do anything. but curious as to why folks do this kind of stuff. Outright stealing I can understand, I took many a candybars in my young years, but vandalizing I don't understand. Cynthia


As I said, email me. Bob.

To Bob


I don't understand---why is the DLB a special target? Does it have cool pictures that people take?

Not for the pictures

No the DLB is not targeted for the pictures within. I think the the DLB is simply a random pick, just to wreak havoc on. The DLB collection of books are all about the same size. I think the size and thickness of the books provide a good cover so speak. If you put a book on top and jab away it, no one really see or pay attention. Also the person doing it, doesn't really have to choose. The DLB all looks the same.

Very sad. I work in the

Very sad. I work in the Library, use the Library, and just borrowed 2 weighty photography books. When I got home and eagerly settled down with them, I began turning the pages only to find, with increasing horror mixed with rage, about 20% of the pages, of each book, to have been sliced out. I would imagine the missing pages are tacked to someone's wall and I sincerely hope the thief never has another decent night's sleep.

It is sad

It is sad that someone can ruin something for everyone. I can only hope he/she will get their due and they will, in some way they will.


Cynthia, I sent you an email on 22 July. You get it? Maybe it's gone to your spam file.

I have seen many library

I have seen many library books that are missing pages. I even saw a display at the Palo Alto Main Library about such vandalism. One of the books in the display has only the table of contents and index. I've seen such vandalism at the Sunnyvale and Mountain View libraries.

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