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Safe Heritage

Theft in archive institutions

Preserving archives and collections is one of the primary roles of any archive institution. Theft and misappropriation represent important threats in this context. How can you prevent these? And what can you do when they happen?

The illegal trade in cultural heritage involves large amounts of money. Large-scale art theft, illegal excavations and looting all receive plenty of coverage in the media. Thefts from archive institutions and libraries are also frequent occurrences, but very little is published about them. In most cases, they only come to light much later. A significant portion of these thefts are committed by internal employees.

Archives and collections are increasingly becoming digitized. This means that your institution’s digital security also needs to be up to standard. The information in this document is limited to the theft of physical items.

The information in this document provides general guidance for security measures and security policy, a prevention checklist and an action plan to apply in the event of theft and misappropriation. It offers a broad overview of the issues that you must or should consider but is in no way exhaustive. Much will depend on the individual situation. For most of the measures included, a limited budget should not be seen as an obstacle. Many issues can be solved by means of organizational interventions. The time and energy you invest in this will be more than worth the effort.

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