Thursday, August 13, 2009

SAA 2009: Security Roundtable meeting

Late afternoon thunderstorm, as seen from the 19th floor, Hilton Austin Downtown, 12 August 2009.

After the joint Lesbian and Gay Archives Roundtable/Women's Collections Roundtable panel presentation, I rushed to the Security Roundtable's annual meeting. I ended up missing a substantial chunk of the roundtable's panel discussion, which featured:
  • Paul Brachfeld and Kelly Maltagliati, who discussed how the U.S. National Archives and Records Administration's Office of the Inspector General recovers stolen federal records, identifies materials that have been stolen, and educates dealers, collectors, and the public.
I nonetheless picked up a wealth of valuable information:
  • Archives now face a new type of security challenge: a lot of recent thefts at the National Archives involve personal information sought by identity thieves. Archivists and law enforcement need to figure out how to protect personal information, much of which is in electronic form, and investigate its theft.
  • Archivists are generally oriented toward helping people and are loath to confront suspected thieves. However, many security guards at the National Archives, who get a cash reward each time they discover a document on its way out the door, also want to think the best of people and don't always follow reporting protocols. However, this sort of misplaced trust makes serial theft possible.
  • Archives need to identify who has access to specific areas within a facility and impose appropriate limits.
  • Management should identify all staff members' collecting areas; staffers who don't work with collections at the present time may do so in the future.
  • Staff should be empowered and expected to question people who are in areas where they shouldn’t be or are carrying materials that they shouldn’t have.
  • If possible, make sure that no one staff person has access to all of your information systems; doing so will make it more difficult for a dishonest staffer to destroy evidence of records' existence.
  • If you suspect internal theft, inform upper management and get law enforcement involved. Act quietly; gossip will spread like wildfire. Every situation is different, but you do need to ensure that you don’t compromise the investigation and tip off the thief. You need to have a plan in place before any incidents come to the fore. Establish good relations with law enforcement ahead of time really helps.
  • Be as careful with vendors as you are with your own staff, and outline your expectations clearly. Museums have well-developed protocols for loaning materials and outsourcing preservation and conservation, but the archival community has not. We need to devote more attention to doing so.
  • One thief who stole from the National Archives put stars in his research notes that indicated which items that he stole, which helped to make up for lack of item-level control over the materials; other thieves may exhibit similar behavior. Researcher photocopies can also help to document provenance.
  • The Office of the Inspector General does a lot of outreach work and has prepared a brochure that explains how to identify federal government records. It has also established a presence at shows frequented by dealers of Civil War, etc., ephemera. The dealers were initially cold, but have started warming up now that they know that their materials generally won't be seized. Dealers will sometimes turn each other in, and some dealers are starting to contact the Office of the Inspector General before they buy questionable documents.

No comments: