Library union complained of lax security before artwork disappeared

The Special Collections lobby at the Boston Public Library.
Pat Greenhouse/Globe Staff
The Special Collections lobby at the Boston Public Library.

The Boston Public Library’s largest union has repeatedly complained about lax security at the central branch in Copley Square, where two prints valued at more than $600,000 have gone missing, according to a union official.

Elissa Cadillic, president of the American Federation of State County and Municipal Employees Local 1526, said during a phone interview Wednesday that patrons and construction workers have occasionally been found in restricted areas of the library during an ongoing $78 million renovation project.

Elevators are not supposed to open onto employee-only floors without an access key, yet they have sometimes been reprogrammed to accommodate construction workers, she said. The glitch has allowed people to get into areas where secure material is stacked, both in the Johnson Building, which is under renovation, and in the McKim Building, where the print collection is kept, she said.


“We have found patrons wandering around our nonpublic areas,” said Cadillic, who works at the library but stressed that she was speaking on behalf of the union. “We have proposed locking down areas, making sure elevators don’t open on floors that they are not supposed to, and making sure security guards are doing what they should be doing.”

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Melina Schuler, a spokeswoman for the library, said officials have worked closely with the contractor and architects “to secure where staff and patrons are entering and exiting the building, to safeguard our collections.”

She said security guards have been added during the construction project, and workers have been required to wear identification badges to gain access to nonpublic areas.

“Any security incident that has been reported by staff has been taken seriously,” she said.

On Tuesday, Schuler cited numerous recent security upgrades at the library, including the creation in October 2014 of a new position, manager of systemwide security, to update and develop security policies.


But on Wednesday she acknowledged the position was first filled in November 2013. Then, when that manager left a year ago, the job was vacant for five months before a replacement was hired in October.

Boston police launched an investigation April 29 into the disappearance of an Albrecht Durer engraving, “Adam and Eve,” valued at about $600,000, and an etching by Rembrandt titled “Self-Portrait With Plumed Cap and Lowered Sabre,” valued at nearly $30,000.

The FBI and the US attorney’s office are assisting police with the investigation. Yet, authorities have still not ruled out the possibility that the valuable works have been simply misfiled among the library’s collection of 200,000 prints.

A library staffer learned the Durer was missing on April 8 and launched a review of locations where it may have been misfiled, according to Schuler. When the Rembrandt was discovered missing a week later, Amy E. Ryan, the library’s president, notified the police commissioner and the mayor.

Police Commissioner William Evans said last week that investigators were looking into the possibility that employees stole the prints up to a year ago.


Cadillic said none of the union’s members at the library has been questioned by police or the FBI, but they are concerned about speculation that the thefts were an inside job.

“My members in there are concerned that they are going to be accused of something they did not do because they work in the department,” Cadillic said.

Shelley Murphy can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @shelleymurph.