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k1094 BC-KS-KULibraryDamage 1stLd-Writethru 06-10 0527

Published on -6/10/2009, 6:19 PM

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Vandals damage, steal rare books at KU library

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LAWRENCE, Kan. (AP) -- Rare books containing ancient and expensive artwork have been stolen or torn apart, resulting in thousands of dollars of damage at a University of Kansas library, according to campus police.

The Watson Library, the oldest and largest at the university, has never seen this level of vandalism and theft before, library spokeswoman Rebecca Smith said.

Books from the 1800s and 1900s have been damaged or stolen in a series of incidents that started in May, police said. Two volumes worth $3,700 contained plates of unique art showing such things as the archaeology of Delphi, one of the most important sites of ancient Greece. They were damaged or stolen on May 28. Four other books, including a German encyclopedia volume from 1819, were damaged Sunday or Monday, causing a loss of nearly $1,350.

"It is incredibly disheartening that someone would come in and do this," Smith said. "These are gems and world-class collections. They really do belong to the people in Kansas."

Pages from one old book were sliced. Its binding was found in a main floor women's restroom, Smith said. Another vandalized book was found on a fourth-floor bench.

Most of the university's rare books are stored at the library's annex or Spencer Research Library, which have limited access. Some books are off-limits to the students, faculty and others who use the library, while others can't be taken from the building, she said.

The university also recently moved more than 800,000 valuable books to a space that's closed to the public, to provide better protection for them.

A third of the library's 4.2 million volumes are secured to prevent vandalism or theft, Smith said. But the library's purpose is to provide access to its books, and it's not uncommon for older, expensive volumes to be in an open area, she said.

The vandalized books were in the library's stacks, which aren't secured.

Most of the library's patrons are students, faculty and staff at the University of Kansas, but it is open to the general public.

Smith told The Associated Press that the library has appropriate security measures to protect rare and expensive books, but the criminals worked their way around them. She would not elaborate on the security measures used.

"We are constantly walking a fine line between security and accessibility," Smith said.

Campus police are in the early stages of an investigation, she said.

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Information from: Lawrence Journal-World, http://www.ljworld.com

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