Charges filed in Carnegie library theft

Charges were filed today in the theft of rare books at the Carnegie Library in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  So far the most extensive public information about the crime and indictments has appeared int the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette under a headline reading:

Two men charged with stealing more than $8 million in rare books from Carnegie Library

Unfortunately, the Post-Gazette website is completely blocked to visitors in the European Union, making access to these latest details difficult for  anyone on this side of the Atlantic to obtain.   We have, however, been sent a PDF copy of the online version of the newspaper story and are thus able to provide it here.

PDF Version of Post-Gazette report on Carnegie Library thefts

Clicking the link above will open up a printer screen that will allow you to print the full story (14 pages).  Click Cancel if you prefer to display a scrollable version of the same story.

New EU Anti-Terror Import Regulations Will Target Bibliophiles

If proposed new European Union regulations are approved, European book collectors and dealers may be in for an annoying surprise when they make their first imported purchases in 2019. Starting next year they may become subject to new import regulations that will significantly complicate the process of buying old books, prints and manuscripts from sources outside the EU.  The  purpose of the changes is to combat the looting and smuggling of antiquities and prevent the financing of terrorism through the illicit trade in cultural goods.  While the need for the new regulations is presented almost entirely in relation to the war on terror, the sweeping new rules themselves will be applied comprehensively and include no provisions for exempting goods from areas which are free from armed conflict or terrorist activities.

The new regulations apply to a broad range of cultural goods, but none will be impacted more adversely than books.  The new procedures are as follows:

If a book, engraving, print, document or publication of “special interest” that is more than 250 years old is presented for import in any EU member state the owner or “holder of the goods” will be required to submit a signed importer statement to customs authorities in the country of entry. The statement must include a declaration that the books have been originally exported legally from their source country. However, in cases where the export country (distinct from the source country) is a “Contracting Party to the UNESCO Convention on Cultural Property” then the holder of the books must  provide a declaration that they have been exported from that export country in accordance with its laws and regulations. Needless to say, while the proposal specifies books and documents of “special interest” it does not give any more explicit criteria for defining what this means and the notion of “special interest,” on its own, is sufficiently vague and subjective to include, in practice, virtually any book that someone might want to import.

Register your opinion on the proposed regulations
HERE

More strenuous requirements apply to incunabula and manuscripts that are more than 250 years old. In this case an import license must be applied for and documentation must be supplied to substantiate that the cultural goods in question have been exported from the source country in accordance with its laws and regulations.  When the goods in question are being exported from someplace other than the source country, and the exporting country is a signatory of the UNESCO convention, then the application needs to be accompanied by documents and information substantiating that the cultural goods have been exported legally.  The application must be presented to a “competent authority” (presumably a customs office) which will have 90 days to examine the application and accept or reject it.  The application can be rejected if the applicant is not able to demonstrate that the goods were exported from the source country “in accordance with its laws and regulations.” In the case where the goods are being exported from a country that is a UNESCO Convention signatory, then the application may be rejected if the goods were not exported in accordance with that country’s laws and regulations.  It is tedious to spell them all out, but those are the new rules and we may all need to understand them  very soon.

The regulations are broad in scope and apply to numerous categories of cultural goods besides books, prints and manuscripts. There are exemptions for items less than 250 years old and special provisions for transit and temporary exhibition. Items from all source countries are included and imports from all non-EU countries must be cleared.  There are no value thresholds similar to those generally applied to the export of cultural objects, such as found in  EU Regulation 116/2009.  No distinction is made between commercial and personal property.  There is nothing to indicate that EU citizens may bring their own personal goods into the EU from outside of it without going through the import procedures.  Thus, there is nothing to assure an EU resident who leaves the Union with personal cultural goods in January that he will will be able to return with those goods in February without being subject to import regulations.

All of which might be made to seem like just another of those common annoyances that have become part of post 9/11 life if there was some prospect that it might actual help in the fight against terrorism.  But I doubt that will happen, at least as far as books and manuscripts are concerned.  I don’t doubt that the part of the regulations that target archaeological artefacts, sculptures and artwork could have some impact in reducing the lucrative illicit demand for these objects, for which there is a significant European market.  But books, prints and manuscripts are an altogether different story. The books that have been looted or ransacked by terrorists from libraries in the Middle East were generally of a religious nature and written in Semitic languages, such as Arabic and Aramaic.  The primary market for these books is from Islamic and Middle Eastern buyers who can read the texts and have a cultural connection to them.  If these books are being looted in order to sell them then this is the market that encourages their theft. Obstructing export channels to legitimate european buyers will do nothing to reduce the illicit market that will continue to thrive elsewhere.  The overwhelmingly Western books that will enter the EU subject to these new rules will be irrelevant to the illicit market that finances terrorism.

With respect to books, the controls which have been defined depend on the ability of owners/importers (“holders of goods’) to prove or declare that the imported goods were legally exported from the country in which they were created.  This requirement will be particularly problematic for book and print sellers. Free trade in books has existed since before the invention of printing and the legal undocumented exportation of books has historically been standard practice in all but exceptional cases. Early export documents for books do not exist.  Thus, an individual who seeks to import a pre-1768 book into the EU will either be required to make a signed declaration about facts he is unable to know, or, in the case of incunables, to provide supporting documentation and information it would be impossible to have. Books are inherently portable and created with the anticipation that they will be widely distributed to various parts of the world.  The circumstances under which an individual 18th century book may have been exported from the country it was printed in is almost certain to be unknown. One may assume that its first exportation was legal, but the possibility of smuggling or theft can almost never be absolutely ruled out.  In nearly all cases, a signed declaration affirming that such a book was exported from its source country “in accordance with its laws and regulations” could only be made fraudulently.  

Another remarkable omission is the lack of any exception for the situation where the source country is the same as the country into which the book is being imported. Thus, a German collector wanting to purchase a German incunable from an American bookseller would be required to obtain an import licence and produce “supporting documents and information substantiating” that the incunable had been exported in accordance with German laws and regulations. Even if it is only a €50 topographical print of Munich, the buyer will be required to submit an importer statement with a description of the item and a signed declaration regarding the legality of its initial export from Germany.

Of even greater concern is the fact that the powers created for this new import authority are not just limited to the simple denial of the right to import. Although the implementation details for this are not spelled out in the actual regulation as proposed, the press release issued by the European Commission states clearly that “Customs authorities will also have the power to seize and retain goods [their emphasis] when it cannot be demonstrated that the cultural goods in question have been legally exported.” Thus, seizure will be authorised not just when illegality can be proven, but also when the absence of illegality cannot be proven. I do not think I need to spell out the implications of this newly granted authority.

The sweeping scope of the categories of goods targeted by these regulations is also puzzling, if not disturbing.  They force me to wonder whether the legitimate goal of fighting terrorism hasn’t now been inflated into a general challenge to the entire marketplace for cultural goods of all types. Apart from books and manuscripts, the list of protected categories includes:

  • “sound, photographic and cinematographic archives”,
  • “postage, revenue and similar stamps,”  
  • “original artistic assemblages and montages in any material,”
  • “specimens of fauna, flora, minerals and anatomy.”
  • “objects of ethnological interest,”
  • “objects relating to history, including the history of science and technology and military and social history, to the life of national leaders, thinkers, scientists and artists and to events of national importance,”

Fortunately, for now at least, items less than 250 years old, regardless of category, are exempt. Given that threshold, one has to wonder why the first two categories above have been included at all.  Indeed, given the repeated anti-terrorist justifications for these regulations, one wonders why it was found necessary to include any of the categories listed above. It is hard to dismiss the suspicion that the fight against terrorism, which enjoys broad popular support, is here nothing more than a pretext for the EU to put in place a system of import controls for all cultural goods, regardless of threat, price or origin. Once that framework is securely in place we should not be surprised to see the 250 year thresholds periodically reduced, if not eliminated altogether.  

The 24 page Explanatory Memorandum issued by the European Commission expresses little or no concern for the burdensome impact these regulations will place on the rights of its citizens to purchase and receive cultural goods, such as books and manuscripts, from sources outside the EU. The proposal skips lightly over the extent to which these rules will impede legitimate trade, and ignores entirely the obstacles they will place in the way of individuals who, for example, build rare book collections or engage in historical research.  To my mind at least, these are important activities that support the cultural interests of everyone and should be protected rather than challenged. Surprisingly then, the Memorandum reveals no effort to measure these activities or evaluate how they will be affected by the rules that are to be imposed.  Admittedly, the market for old books is complicated and widely dispersed.  No accurate statistics about its size have been published.  The question of how many books and manuscripts in the open marketplace will be subject to the proposed regulations is ignored.  Although exact numbers are not available, an examination of viaLibri search records tells me that the number of pre-1768 books, manuscripts and prints for sale on the internet must exceed 400,000 items, and is probably even higher than that. It is impossible to know how many of these are sold each year, but I would not be surprised if the number fell safely into six figures. And they would not all be very expensive, as a few test searches on viaLibri would show.  The majority appear to be under $300, and there are even a few that are priced at less than the cost of shipping them internationally.  

The memorandum reports that, during a 3 month assessment process begun  in October 2016, 305 “contributions” were received from “stakeholders,” including “citizens, enterprises, professional associations and interests representatives, NGOs and civil society, [and] public authorities.” It is unclear, however, how many individual contributors are included in that number and who those contributors were.  The International League of Antiquarian Booksellers, we know, was not among them.  Thus, the single largest, oldest and most important professional association in the field of early books and manuscripts was not involved in the assessment process . An omission as serious as that cannot give anyone much confidence in the product of those deliberations.  Fortunately, these regulations have not yet been voted into law and there is still time to save ourselves from them. The ILAB has now sent a letter of concern to the individual members of the European Parliament who appear to have authority on this proposed legislation. These are:

– Daniel Dalton (UK)       http://www.europarl.europa.eu/meps/en/35135.html

– Alessia Maria MOSCA (IT) http://www.europarl.europa.eu/meps/en/124868.html

– Santiago FISAS AYXELÀ (ES) http://www.europarl.europa.eu/meps/en/96729/SANTIAGO_FISAS+AYXELA_home.html

– Kostas CHRYSOGONOS (GR) http://www.europarl.europa.eu/meps/en/125061/KOSTAS_CHRYSOGONOS_home.html

If you also have concerns about this legislation you may want to write to them yourself. I know I intend to.

[version française]

More on this subject:

Latest Developments in the Girolamini Scandal

Recent events in the wake of the Girolamini thefts have revealed that the Italian authorities who are  pursuing the matter appear to be clueless about the nature of the books that they are charged with recovering.   Many interesting details in this regard are found in the recent memorandum sent to the Italian judiciary by ILAB president Norbert Donhofer, copied below.  Among other things, this astonishing text reveals that, in the minds of the Italian investigators, it is possible for books which have already been seized and secured in police vaults in Germany to be held at the same time on the shelves of a Danish bookseller.  This miraculous transmigration of texts leads us to wonder what other fantastical accusations may await us in the future.

The text of the ILAB memorandum follows:

MEMORANDUM OF ILAB TO THE ITALIAN JUDICIARY

In March 2012 Professor Tomaso Montanari first brought to light a cultural theft, which then appeared to be limited to the Girolamini Library, based in Naples. We now know that the Director of the library at the time, Marino Massimo de Caro, widened his trail in plundering through other libraries in Italy as well: Montecassino, Naples Municipal Library, Ministry of Agriculture Library, a Seminary in Padua, and the Ximines Observatory Library in Florence. Soon after the discovery of the theft the Italian authorities announced that four books from the Girolamini Library were offered in Auction 59 (May 2012) at the Munich Auction House Zisska and Schauer, and arranged for them to be seized by the German police. The auction house thereupon recalled all books from this consignment – a total of 540 titles – and handed them over to the German authorities in Munich, where these books have been stored to this day.

 

The President of ILAB at the time – Arnoud Gerits – then informed the members of ILAB in an open letter and he immediately offered his assistance and cooperation to the Italian investigating authorities to uncover the truth of this scandal. When Tom Congalton was elected the new President of ILAB in the autumn of 2012, he gave renewed assurances to the Italian authorities of ILAB’s willingness to assist in every conceivable manner to get to the bottom of this case. Both offers, as well as many others made subsequently, went unanswered by the Italian authorities.

On April 8 in 2013, the President of the Italian Association of Antiquarian Booksellers, ALAI, Fabrizio Govi, attempted to relate the criminal route of Marino Massimo de Caro in a speech in the Library of Congress; in the edition of the “The New Yorker” of December 16 in  2013, Nicholas Schmidle described in detail how the former Director of the Girolamini Library was further implicated. Both of these, the speech made by Fabrizio Govi and Nicholas Schmidle’s article, were also brought to the attention of the Italian authorities.

In 2013 the Italian antiquarian bookseller Giuseppe Solmi was arrested by the Italian Carabinieri, and released a short time later. The charge: dealing in books stolen from one of the libraries in which Marino Massimo de Caro was operating. On the 2nd of August of the same year the auctioneer Herbert Schauer was arrested on the strength of a European arrest warrant, and deported to Italy several weeks afterwards. The charge: dealing in books stolen from one of the libraries in which Marino Massimo de Caro was operating and participation in a criminal association. Herbert Schauer was condemned to a five-year prison sentence early this summer, but meanwhile the arrest of Mr. Schauer was lifted by the Italian Court of Cassation.

 

The latest case in relation to this affair concerns the Danish antiquarian bookseller Christian Westergaard. He was arrested several weeks ago in front of his family. The charge: dealing in books stolen from one of the libraries in which Marino Massimo de Caro was operating. To be sure, Christian Westergaard was released the same day, but the eleven books that had been secured by the Danish police during a mutual assistance procedure remained in safekeeping by the Danish police. The most astonishing thing about the latter case is the fact that all eleven books were also included in the catalogue of Zisska and Schauer’s Auction 59 and hence had already been secured by the German authorities since May 2012. For all eleven of the books that had been secured by him, Christian Westergaard was subsequently able to prove when, where and from whom he had acquired them. This includes also books he had acquired from the Macclesfield Auction at Sotheby’s in London (2006ff).

It was only a few days before the start of the first auction of Philobiblon/Bloomsbury (Rome) when the Carabinieri confiscated all lots of the auction by order of the court at Naples. It was suspected that some books of this auction had been stolen from the Girolamini library. The President of ALAI, Fabrizio Govi, appointed two independent experts to check the books, and Mr. Danesi and Mr. Parkin reported that not a single book of the auction could be traced back to an Italian Public Library.

ILAB protests against this unprofessional approach by the Italian authorities in the strongest terms. A simple glance at the lists of the items stored in Munich would have shown straightaway that the books seized in Denmark could not possibly be those volumes that were stolen by Marino Massimo de Caro, nor does it appear to be clear to the investigating authorities that in the vast majority of cases there are naturally a number of copies of printed books, whatever age they may be, that differ in their state of preservation, binding, or provenance.

ILAB further protests against the fact that, through the procedures chosen by the Italian authorities, respectable citizens and business people are falling under suspicion of criminal actions and consequently their reputations are being frivolously compromised. The shock experienced by the families of those arrested under undignified circumstances is also mentioned here for the sake of completion.

ILAB is also protesting against the fact that, as a result of these measures, an entire profession is being stigmatized and might be at risk of losing its credit standing with private and institutional clients, as well as banks, which has taken decades to build up.

ILAB is a long way from giving advice to the Italian judiciary, but we are renewing our offer to the investigating authorities to assist in having these criminal actions thoroughly cleared up and to cooperate unconditionally. By providing you with some expertise required to differentiate between different copies of the same title, we might be able to help prevent a repetition of potentially embarrassing and unnecessary events such as the regrettable arrest of Christian Westergaard. Once again ILAB requests the Italian authorities to provide us with lists of the stolen books which could be included in our stolen books database.

As President of ILAB, I would be happy to meet with the relevant authorities at any time.

Norbert Donhofer, President of ILAB

Will Google “retire” Google Books too?

A few days ago I received an email message from Google; or, to be more precise, from one of its many children, the one named Google Affiliate Network.  They were writing to let me know that Google now feels it has better things to do and will be closing GAN at the end of July.  They did not mention being sorry.  One of our regular advertisers pays us through GAN, so both of us will now have to move someplace else. A new and unexpected job has been added to my hopelessly long to-do list.  I will survive; but it makes me grumpy.

Google has been doing this sort of thing a lot lately.  Quite recently, Google Reader was similarly “retired” (that’s the word they used with GAN),  and iGoogle was retired a few weeks before that.  In fact, there is a long list of products that Google has launched (or bought), ballyhooed, grown bored with, and closed.  The editors at Slate even maintain a virtual graveyard where you can visit the Google family burial plots and leave flowers on the tombstones of the “retired” products and services you mourn the most.

All of which inevitably makes me wonder when the bell may also toll for Google Books.  Until recently that thought would never have crossed my mind.  Google always seemed like some rich uncle who could afford anything and always arrived for holidays with extravagant presents for everyone.  Cost was never an issue. He always grabbed the check .He did it because he could.  That’s just the way he was.

But now I see that sometimes uncle wants something in return. Its not just money, and not even gratitude and market dominence will always be enough.  At least that’s what seems to have been the case with Google Reader, which will leave a huge vacuum in its wake.   It’s hard to imagine that it could have been such a drag on the P&L that it needed to be killed.  If it had been a venture-backed start-up, with comparable traffic and market share, it could  surely have been sold for eight or nine figures.  It could have made money if it wanted to.  It was valuable and loved.  But Google did not even care to sell it.  Apparently it lost interest because it decided that RSS feeds were just too yesterday to bother with any more.  They were no longer cool, or hot, or a challenge.  So they are going to nail it in a coffin and put it in the ground.

It had not occured to me that Google might be fickle.  Until now.  And I probably wouldn’t think twice about it if the only things at stake were browser tools and internet utilities.   Making our vast printed heritage fully accesible to a digital future is, however, something altogether different.   The thought that this massive and essential project may be in the hands of a fickle steward has now given me pause.

So I have to ask, what happens if Google decides it has also become bored with old books?  They are, after all, the most thoroughly “yesterday” of all content media.  The idea of digitizing and indexing the holdings of most of the world’s major research libraries seemed breath-taking a decade ago. Now it seems merely necessary and inevitable.  The thrill and audacity of the project are now long past.  The innovation is done.  The glory has been claimed and spent.  All that remains is the slow and tedious execution, accompanied by a swelling chorus of  disatisfaction with the shoddy results.  And, of course, the expense.

I might be more optimistic if I believed that Google’s founders had originally understood the nature of the thing they wanted to create; that they had understood not just how it should be built, but why.   But I don’t.  Sergey Brin’s own defense of Google Books, published in a 2009 Op-Ed article in the New York Times, makes clear what a naive stranger he was to the world of libraries and out-of-print books.  Several  quotes from that fascinating piece could be called up as testimony here, but my favorite must certainly be this:

 “Today, if you want to access a typical out-of-print book, you have only one choice — fly to one of a handful of leading libraries in the country and hope to find it in the stacks.”

So, clearly, he didn’t have a clue.

Until it is retired I will, of course, continue to use Google Books and be ever thankful for the blessings it bestows.  But I do not expect to have it around for long; and I doubt, in the end, that it will matter.  The great march of digitization will still proceed. The work will be done regardless, and it will, in the end, be lead by people and institutions who understand the importance of what they are doing. They will not get bored.  I do love Google Books now, but will not regret it’s demise.

And neither, I suspect, will Sergey.  He has his own plane.