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This report is taken from PN Review 187, Volume 35 Number 5, May - June 2009.

Letter from Wales Sam Adams
The advent of the media age has ensured we are constantly reminded of the worst of mankind, almost to the point of becoming unshockable. We have become used to coverage of events that leaves us angry or depressed about the state of the world, though never for long. It is not often that a newspaper story, especially one about books, casts a shadow that lingers for more than a day. This, nevertheless, was what occurred at the beginning of February, when I read a report in The Guardian headed ‘Book world’s silence helps tome raiders’.

It began with a rehash of old news about a Cambridge graduate, who used disguise and several aliases to gain admittance to major libraries, in order to steal rare books - a million pounds’ worth from the British Library alone. The item also mentioned the recent case of an Iranian academic who had previously stolen books from the Royal Asiatic Society Library and caused damage amounting to several hundred thousand pounds at the Bodleian and the British Library by removing maps and illustrations from rare, old books with a scalpel. The reluctance of libraries to admit they have been plundered has encouraged the thieves, but this peculiar conspiracy of silence has now been broken, and they are being caught and punished. In a flash of anger when I first read about their activities, I declared gaol too good for them. In addition, they should at the very least serve a week in the stocks ...

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