I attended a fascinating conference at the British Library last week about the worrisome rise in thefts of rare books from libraries in Europe. The rare books that survive from the past on paper and vellum are much more than commodities worth millions to be traded at auction, librarians reminded us. The National Library of Sweden was pillaged for a decade by its own head of manuscripts; one of its librarians said that ancient and rare books in national collections are nothing less than the cultural memory of an entire people. Stealing and reselling these to the antiquarian book trade is like “causing brain damage in the national memory,” he said.
Luckily there are many ethical bibliophiles out there who would not want to possess a treasure that has been stolen from its rightful owner.
My full report on the proceedings is at the Prospero culture blog at Economist.com