Metro

Audit faults security at Boston Public Library

Critical examination undertaken before art disappearance was known

The Special Collections Lobby at the Boston Public Library in Copley Square.
Pat Greenhouse/Globe Staff
The Special Collections Lobby at the Boston Public Library in Copley Square.

The Boston Public Library, where two valuable pieces of artwork disappeared, inadequately protects its special collections from theft, haphazardly stores some of its most valuable items, and does not keep a complete inventory of its prized objects, according to a city-commissioned audit obtained by The Boston Globe.

“Current estimates for holdings are [in most categories] guesses made many years ago that have been adjusted with newer guesses along the way,” according to the audit of the library’s operations and finances by Chrysalis Management. The assessment was launched in December and commissioned by Mayor Martin J. Walsh.

“While security staff has taken steps to better control key access to high value areas,’’ the audit said, “they agree that they are exposed to internal theft.”

Advertisement

The report, dated May 1 and provided to the Boston Finance Commission on Tuesday, found that the library’s Special Collections, which includes the print collection where the artwork valued at more than $600,000 went missing, is not well managed.

Get Fast Forward in your inbox:
Forget yesterday's news. Get what you need today in this early-morning email.
Thank you for signing up! Sign up for more newsletters here

Jeffrey Rudman, chairman of the library’s board of trustees, said Tuesday night in a phone interview that he had not yet read the audit, but that the trustees plan to meet to discuss its findings, “among other topics.”

“Defending against internal misconduct, if there was any, is a real challenge,” Rudman said. “So of course, we want to do better.”

Boston police, the FBI, and the US attorney’s office are investigating the disappearance of Albrecht Dürer’s engraving “Adam and Eve,” valued at an estimated $600,000, and an etching by Rembrandt entitled “Self-Portrait With Plumed Cap and Lowered Sabre,” valued at $20,000 to $30,000, from the library’s Copley Square branch.

Police launched an investigation on April 29 and said they are looking into the possibility that employees stole the artwork, which may have been missing for up to a year.

Advertisement

No one has been charged. One employee, who oversaw the special collections, has been placed on paid administrative leave.

The audit was submitted on the same day that Walsh met privately with Rudman and Amy E. Ryan, the library’s president, to discuss security protocols at the library and the missing artwork.

Walsh and Ryan both declined to comment on the audit through their aides.

In the interview with the Globe, Rudman said he has full confidence in Ryan and characterized her as “the best leader this library could possibly have.”

A library employee learned the Dürer was missing on April 8 and launched a review of locations where it might have been misfiled, according to Melina Schuler, a library spokeswoman.

Advertisement

When the Rembrandt was discovered missing a week later, Ryan notified Police Commissioner William Evans and the mayor, she said.

At the heart of the investigation is whether the artwork was misfiled or stolen.

Rudman declined to say if he thought a crime had been committed, citing the pending investigation, or why Susan Glover, the keeper of special collections, had been placed on leave last month.

Six people had access to the restricted area where the prints were kept, he said.

Matt Cahill, executive director of the Boston Finance Commission, the city’s fiscal watchdog, said his office had just received the audit on Tuesday and he could not comment on its findings.

Asked about the security concerns highlighted in the report, Cahill said, “Anytime someone points out flaws in the system, you want to make sure that you’re not just reacting to it, but that you’re taking a thoughtful approach to make sure the problem no longer exists.”

After the meeting at City Hall and before the audit was obtained by the Globe, Ryan released a statement saying the library trustees will meet soon, and “it is our hope to see this situation resolved swiftly and thoroughly.”

Ryan said she learned on April 10 that the Dürer engraving had been missing for almost a year, “a time gap of significant concern which will be part of the administrative investigation.”

She said she notified Rudman the next day and directed an internal search that was launched on April 13. Staff discovered during the search that the Rembrandt was missing as well.

“While still hopeful that the prints were misfiled, it was clear that the BPL may have been the victim of a crime,” Ryan said. “On Wednesday, April 15, Jeff Rudman and I contacted the office of Mayor Walsh and Commissioner Evans.”

She also defended the library’s security protocols for viewing the special collections, saying they are similar to standards at other institutions nationwide.

“There is limited employee access to the print collection, and controlled public access,” she said.

The audit followed Walsh’s announcement in early 2014 that he would be ordering “performance audits” of various city agencies.

The report credited the BPL with a number of accomplishments, including providing a breadth of services, having a strong digital team, marketing its collections of distinction, and successfully executing major construction projects.

However, it also recommended 10 high-priority improvement opportunities, which included inventory management, union cooperation, prioritization and accountability, employee performance management, and fund-raising.

The report said the special collections staff focused too much on acquiring new works and not enough on protecting what the city already owns.

“Staff levels are not sufficient to properly care for aging items and storage is not suited to maintaining required environmental conditions,” the review said. “Security is insufficient to protect against internal theft.”

The library has recently taken a number of steps to improve security, including a $78 million renovation project that includes significant upgrades to security, such as cameras and expanded key card access points, according to Schuler, the library spokeswoman.

In October 2014, the library created a new position, the manager of systemwide security, who is tasked with updating and developing security policies across the system.

In addition, an independent firm has been hired to assess security in the library’s print department and associated collections, Schuler said.

The audit said more improvements were required and recommended a security monitoring system with live camera feeds, instead of the library’s current system that records videos at multiple locations and is only reviewed after an issue occurs.

The audit also said the library does not have a consolidated inventory list.

The assessment said it is critical that the library inventory every item, estimate its value and where it is housed, and determine whether special security concerns or standards are required to view it.

“The significant value of some items makes increased security a high priority, particularly as it relates to protection against internal theft,” the report said.

Rudman sounded a note of optimism, calling the library “one of the great public libraries of this country, maybe number one. We want to be the best that we can be, and the task for us is to see what we can learn from this.”

Laura Crimaldi contributed to this report. Shelley Murphy can be reached at shelley.murphy@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @shelleymurph. Travis Andersen can be reached attravis.andersen@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @TAGlobe.