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Prevention and Preparedness

Theft of historical records from archives, historical organizations, museums, and libraries is widespread, and nearly all thefts are committed by employees, volunteers, or authorized researchers. To limit the opportunity for theft, consistent policies and procedures need to be developed and followed.

There are things you can do to prevent or minimize theft whatever the circumstances, size, and resources of your repository. These range from simple control of keys to elaborate electronic and video monitoring systems. 

Here is some basic guidance for assessing your organization’s strengths and vulnerabilities, enhancing your security, and choosing actions that will work for your repository.

Who Steals?
Learn about warning signs and some common characteristics of historical records thieves and read about some cases of historical records theft.

Document Your Collections
Use tools such as a collecting policy, catalogs, finding aids, and inventories to document what you have in your collections. This will help to discourage theft, determine when a theft has occurred, and confirm your ownership of stolen materials.

Security Systems
People, procedures and technology are needed to provide basic security for the facility and its collections. This may include security guards, control of keys, opening and closing procedures, and electronic access, surveillance, and alarm systems.

Control Access
Store archival collections in a secure location and restrict access rights to those staff whose job requires access to secure storage.

Manage Use of Archival Records
Keep track of who uses or has access to which records and when, enforce clear rules of use, and monitor the research room to help prevent theft and provide documentation should a theft occur.

Employ Sound Human Resources Practices
Remember that half of all historical records thefts are committed by employees or volunteers. Safe policies and practices for hiring, recruiting, and managing staff and volunteers reduce the likelihood of theft.

Educate and Train
Create a supportive learning environment that includes security orientation and training for new staff and volunteers. Once they understand the threat of theft, most people will willingly comply with commonsense policies and procedures designed to deter it.