The Map Thief

Map Thief dust jacketThe final Tuesday Tea lecture for 2016 will be presented today, May 3rd, at 4:00 in the Archives/Chapin Instruction Room (Sawyer Library Room 452). It is sponsored by the Williams Libraries, the Office of the Dean of the Faculty, and the Ronald B. Moir, Class of 1951 Chapin Library Fund.

When we were planning our new library building, Sylvia Brown, then the College Archivist, and I spent a great deal of time thinking about how we might steal things. If we wanted to prevent a theft, we had to think like a thief. During this process, three names often came to mind.

The first was Donald Lynch, a shoe salesman who in 1940 posed as Sinclair E. Gillingham, an English professor at Middlebury College, and when no one was looking, stole the Chapin Library’s copy of the Shakespeare First Folio. We got it back, but the experience was proof, if proof were needed, that researchers should not be allowed to work out of sight of staff, and should not be allowed to keep a bag or briefcase at hand.

The second name that came to mind was Gilbert Bland. Bland was a nondescript little man who became the most notorious map thief of the 1990s, striking at libraries all over the eastern United States. Happily, Williamstown seems to have been too remote to draw his attention, but this too was a wake-up call which exposed deficiencies in security.

And finally there was E. Forbes Smiley III. Smiley was another map thief, but degrees worse than Gilbert Bland, because Smiley was a leading expert and dealer whom librarians trusted. Again, Williams was spared the experience of theft, possibly because our collections were less well-known than those of other libraries, but it showed that one had to be watchful even of those who seemed unlikely to turn to crime.

Forbes Smiley is at the center of today’s talk, and of the book The Map Thief by our speaker, Michael Blanding. Michael is a Williams College graduate, Class of 1995, and a senior fellow at the Schuster Institute of Investigative Journalism at Brandeis. His work has appeared in Wired, The Nation, The New Republic, and other publications, including recent issues of Williams magazine. The Map Thief was deservedly a New York Times bestseller, an NPR Book of the Year, and a New England Society Book Award winner.

After Michael’s talk, there will be a short time for questions and answers, followed by a reception in the Chapin Gallery (Sawyer 406).

Wayne Hammond, Chapin Librarian

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