In 1932, a former Harvard College graduate student named Joel Clifton Williams was arrested, having been caught stealing books from the Harvard Widener Library. Upon further investigation it was discovered that Williams had stolen not simply a handful of books but somewhere in the range of 2000, all thereafter remaining cozily ensconced at his home in Dedham, Massachusetts. Those who knew Williams were shocked, given his shy aloofness (though perhaps that was itself a clue). The books were returned to Harvard, but during Williams' trial they could not be loaned out, for they were still evidence in the case, and so had to be kept securely in storage until Williams' conviction and sentencing for the crime. Afterwards, the administrators of the library deliberated what treatment the books ought to get, and ultimately chose to have each one stamped with a bookplate reading:

This book was stolen from
the Harvard College Library.
It was later recovered.
The thief was sentenced to
two years at hard labor. 1932.

Some of these books remain on the shelves to this day.


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