ACRL/RBMS Guidelines Regarding Security and Theft in Special Collections

Developed by: RBMS Security Committee

"Introduction for Archivists" prepared by SAA's Security Roundtable

ACRL/RBMS Guidelines Regarding Security and Theft in Special Collections, prepared by the RBMS Security Committee, serves as an update to the earlier ACRL/RBMS “Guidelines for the Security of Rare Books, Manuscripts, and Other Special Collections” and “Guidelines Regarding Thefts in Libraries,” which were formally adopted by SAA in 1993.  The new Guidelines reflect the shift in best practices during the past thirteen years. They also exhibit the results of a concentrated effort to modify language and recommendations in the interest of greater inclusion for special collections repositories beyond rare book and academic libraries.

The Guidelines provide a framework for a proactive approach to both theft prevention and recovery of archival materials stolen or otherwise alienated from a repository. The document provides an opportunity for flexibility, as it accounts for the need to solicit input from various stakeholders and adopts the approach of recommended guidelines rather than mandated standards.  This also provides for modification based on varying state laws and institutional policies. In the absence of archives-specific guidelines regarding security, the work of the RBMS Security Committee is advantageous to all archives and serves as an excellent resource to combat a challenging issue.

Although the Guidelines provide a comprehensive look at effective security practices employed in many institutions, they cannot serve as a “cure all.” It is clear that tremendous effort has been employed toward the elimination of library-specific terminology, yet there remains in the Guidelines certain concepts that may be inappropriate or unfeasible in some archival settings.  Users of the Guidelines should recognize that certain issues remain more relevant to rare books than to archives.

Most notable is the issue of marking, which is heavily emphasized within the Guidelines. Although some archivists are both willing and able to implement marking programs, these efforts remain impracticable for the majority of archival institutions due to the sheer volume of most archival collections. Many archivists also remain uncomfortable with the potential defacement of historic documents (either by the act of marking itself or the mutilation of marked documents by a thief), although advancements in technology make this concern less pressing as discrete marking options become more accessible and affordable.  Others may argue that marking serves as a practical solution for a repository’s most treasured collections, yet the efforts needed to undertake a marking exercise may be better directed toward reformatting and the use of surrogate documents whenever possible. Within the archival community, it is clear that there cannot and will not be a single standard for marking, despite the thorough discussion of the advantages offered by the Guidelines.  Each institution should carefully consider the issues surrounding marking and other security-related practices and develop clear written policies that clarify exactly how the institution defines marking, what types of markings are used currently (and have been used in the past) and, most importantly, what criteria are used to determine when or whether an item is marked (if ever). As is the case with most security practices, failure to establish a clear policy, with equally consistent procedures, could potentially lead to a perception of negligence, liability, and a lack of due diligence once a theft has been experienced.

Therefore, archivists should confer with legal counsel prior to implementing a security program, policy, or procedure to ensure compliance with any relevant laws. It is also imperative that security policies be revisited continually. If available and appropriate, it is also advisable to consult with risk management staff, as security will always require the balance of numerous competing ideals.

For the full text of the standard, download the file or follow the link to ACRL/RBMS below.

SAA Council Approval/Endorsement Date: 
May 2012
Sponsoring Group(s): 
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ACRL-RBMSGuidelinesReSecurityAndTheftInSpecialCollections_05232012.pdf300.76 KB


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