Friday, March 16, 2007

Continuing Pukapuka Investigation Nabs Librarian

I first wrote about Operation Pukapuka (Maori for 'book') last October, to note the sentencing of several book thieves accused of lifting thousands of books from New Zealand libraries, erasing the ownership marks, and selling them. As is often the case with these things, another shoe has dropped.

Massey University (Palmerston, NZ) librarian Karen Dale Churton, 48, has now entered a guilty plea on charges that she stole six rare books from her workplace valued at more than $23,000 (NZ). The Manawatu Standard reports that Churton, who was named the University's New Zealand-Pacific Librarian back in 2001, "removed six rare and valuable books from the library and had their records deleted. She removed many of the ownership markings by 'washing'."

The thefts took place between March, 2002 and March, 2003, the police have concluded, and Ms. Churton later sold the books "through Otaki's Bethune's Rare Books auction house. Three books were sold on August 19, 2002, for $1910, one on November 28, 2002, for $5400 and two on March 6, 2003, for $16,000, totaling $23,310."

Two of the stolen books have now been recovered. "Police sought reparations for the stolen books, with $17,110 going to the Massey University library and $6,200 to Bethune's Rare Books Ltd. in Otaki." Churton, who will be sentenced next week, told the court yesterday that she was "disappointed in herself and sorry and would like to repay the money, which had been used on her family."

Radio New Zealand adds that this case has prompted a security review at Massey's libraries: head librarian "John Redmayne says the current lock and key system could be replaced by a more secure key pad and other measures may be adopted." Clearly necessary; there's nothing like closing the barn door after the horse is out.

Ms. Churton ought indeed to be "disappointed in herself and sorry." She ought also to spend some time in prison. Such flagrant abuses of cultural trust and responsibility cannot be tolerated or taken lightly.

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