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Enlisting Public Support
Your repository’s user community is one of your greatest allies in recovering missing items. Researchers, genealogists, and collectors can be instrumental in spotting records that may belong to your repository, reporting sales of suspicious items, and spreading the word about the problem of historical records theft.
On-site researchers can also be enlisted to help. Ask them to tell you whenever they encounter records missing from a collection, misfiled or disorganized records, or items that may require additional protection. Involving your researchers in efforts to protect holdings both strengthens their connection to your organization and expands your knowledge about collection needs.
Call on professional colleagues in both the public and private sectors, as well. They can provide support in your efforts to find and reclaim stolen holdings.
Getting the Word Out
The best strategy for reclaiming your missing records is to share information about them as widely as possible; the more people who know about your missing records, the better your chances for recovery. Images and detailed written descriptions are important not only in identifying your missing items, but also in proving that they are the legal property of your repository.
Some organizations publish “Top 10” lists of stolen items accompanied by images, descriptions, and contact information. Others create “Wanted” posters identifying a single stolen item and distribute them among cultural and heritage organizations, and businesses. Consider posting your missing items on your web site and make use of newsletters, social networking pages, and listservs in your recovery efforts. Resources like these help increase awareness of historical records theft and may assist in the identification and recovery of stolen items.
Brochures about archival theft are simple and convenient tools for conveying critical information to the public and your users. Distributing an illustrated brochure that highlights items missing from your collection and provides guidelines for identifying and reporting stolen records can also be an effective way to educate the public in the problem of historical records theft.
Sample Missing Records Brochure
Getting the Word Out provides an annotated list of valuable web-based resources for posting and sharing information about theft and stolen items.
Getting the Word Out
An underlying principle of successful recovery is transparency. By openly sharing information about a theft and getting out in front of your loss, you will improve your ability to recover stolen items. Communicate information quickly, clearly, and proactively to avoid the perception of secrecy. See Communications for information about communicating with your staff, donors and the media after a theft.
Transparency also benefits the historical records community. As it becomes clear that theft happens to all types of repositories, any organizational shame that may be associated with theft, however unwarranted, is reduced. Transparency increases the general awareness of historical records theft and creates an environment more conducive to collaboration and recovery of records.