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The Ripper: State Library Hunts Serial Book Vandal



A vandal has been mutilating books at the Library of Virginia for months, and library officials have been unable to find the person responsible.

Even more troubling, according to a source with knowledge of the incidents, is that the vandalized books are located in the library’s stacks, which are closed to the public. The source says handfuls of pages have been torn or removed from hundreds of volumes.

State Librarian Sandra G. Treadway confirms the vandalism of “books on a variety of subjects,” but says she can’t provide more details while the state Division of Capitol Police is investigating the matter. “Right now, I want to find this person,” she says. “So we’ve got to work with them.”

“This kind of thing is not uncommon in libraries and archives,” Treadway says. “It’s horribly unfortunate, but it’s not uncommon. It does take time to find the person.”

The Capitol Police received a report of “alleged vandalism or destruction of books” at the library May 13 and several subsequent dates. “There’s no rhyme or reason to the subjects” of the books, says Capt. Raymond J. Goodloe III, deputy chief of administration for the Division of Capitol Police.

The Library of Virginia is the official guardian of the state’s archives, books and historic documents. It has “the most comprehensive collection of materials on Virginia government, history, and culture available anywhere,” its website boasts. Treadway says some of the damaged books are irreplaceable.

When a visitor wants to read a book from the library’s closed stacks, he or she requests the book at the circulation desk. A staff member pulls it from the shelf and sends it down an elevator. Procedures for public use of the library haven’t been affected by the vandalism investigation, Treadway says.

Vandalism is, unfortunately, common in academic libraries, says Patricia Selinger, head of preservation for Virginia Commonwealth University Libraries. Selinger says she hadn’t heard about the incidents at the Library of Virginia.

Vandals’ motives vary, Selinger says, but frequently are related to political motivations, religious motivations, or “some perceived offense that the book or the collection, in part, presents to the person.” Or, she says, it simply could be “spite.”

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