Skip to main content

Collections Security: Planning and Prevention for Cultural Heritage Institutions

“Many cultural heritage institutions fail to recognize the vulnerability of their collections to loss. Collections can be threatened by theft and vandalism, disasters (e.g. fire or flood), and damage from careless handling or poor environmental conditions. Any institution seeking to provide the best possible security for its collections must put in place coordinated policies that address all of these threats. Since NEDCC’s Preservation Leaflets on The Environment, Emergency Management and Storage and Handling can be consulted for information on disaster planning, environmental control, and proper storage and handling, this leaflet will focus on problems associated with collections security: theft and vandalism.


Most cultural heritage staff members have heard stories describing trusted patrons, relative strangers, or even valued staff who have pilfered collections (for personal gain or to add to private collections), but many do not believe such things could happen in their institution. Too often staff and management do not recognize the occurrence or the effects of theft and vandalism, and while most institutions have basic security policies, consistent enforcement can be difficult to achieve. Some patrons, and indeed some staff, see security measures as unnecessary inconveniences.


If a security program is to be effective, there must be widespread understanding of the importance of security to the mission of the institution: fundamentally, missing or damaged collections cannot be made available for use. It is important to understand that while some damage or loss can be ameliorated (for example, a stolen journal might be replaced through purchase, books missing in one library may be loaned from another, or missing pages may be photocopied), other materials are irreplaceable if the material is unique, rare, or difficult and expensive to replace.


This leaflet will discuss strategies for preventing theft and vandalism of collections, responding to any breach of security that might occur, and creating an effective, universally enforced security plan.”