Ithaca, N.Y. — The theft was discovered Wednesday when, while reshelving books in Kroch Library’s Asia Collection book stacks, a library staffer thought one of the cases seemed a little light.

Eight to 10 Chinese pamphlets from 1867 were supposed to be inside. But instead, all he found was paper towel. In total, 15 such boxes had been stolen.

The theft was reported to police the following morning. But days later, library staffers are still perplexed about what happened.

It’s a case where more is unknown than known, said John Saylor, an associate university librarian.

Olin Library

For one, when were they stolen? The pamphlets could have been taken years ago, since they were in stacks open to the public, according to Saylor.

Answers are similarly absent as to who would have taken them and why. Titled “Seven Confucian Canons Approved by the Emperor,” the books were not a first edition, and were one of several copies of the material, according to Saylor.

Answers are also scarce as to how the thief was able to make off with the manuscripts.

Were the books not given anti theft tags? Did the alarm fail to go off when they were stolen? Did the thief remove the tags?

John Saylor

Saylor says nobody knows.

The library has plenty of other books with the same content, Saylor said, and though there’s no way of determining the value of the stolen books, a similar set from 1904 were valued at about $300.

“I don’t think there’s a market for this in the U.S., especially since it’s been reported in the media now,” Saylor said. “I think it would be hard to sell since the content is readily available in other places.”

“We’re concerned that somebody would do this, but the value wasn’t as great as the date might indicate,” Saylor said. “It’s more the act than the object itself, in this case.”

Also, anyone in the Cornell community could borrow the books, he said.

The biggest question: Why in would anyone would steal the manuscripts?

“Your guess is as good as mine,” Saylor said.


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