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Thefts prompt British Museum to digitalize records

Updated: 2023-10-21 09:53 ( China Daily )
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The British Museum has unveiled a $12-million plan to digitalize records for its entire collection, after thousands of items were stolen because of flawed record keeping.

The museum in London reported in August that around 2,000 artifacts had been stolen or had gonemissing, and that their absence had not been noticed for years because of its antiquated records system.

The loss of items, likely because of thefts by an employee, led to a huge scandal and the exit of the museum's director. The case is now being investigated by London's Metropolitan Police.

The museum said this past week that it hopes the digitization of its records will ensure it is not vulnerable to such thefts in the future.

"Essentially, we were the victims of an inside job by someone, we believe, who over a long period of time was stealing from the museum and who the museum had put trust in," George Osborne, chairman of its trustees, told a parliamentary committee on Wednesday as reported by Reuters.

"There are lots of lessons to be learned."

Osborne told lawmakers the thefts could have started around 25 years ago, and that some 350 itemshave since been traced and are set to be returned to the museum. He said the perpetrator likely covered up the thefts by amending the museum's paper records.

The 2,000 missing items reportedly included gold jewelry and gems that date back to the Greek and Roman empires, with some subsequently popping up for sale online. Mark Jones, the museum's interim director, said the digitization of the 8 million artifacts in its collection will likely take five years to complete and involve the creation of 2.4 million records.

"We have taken steps to improve security and are now confident that a theft of this kind can never happen again," he told lawmakers. "But we cannot, and must not, assume that the security of the collection, in a wider sense, can be achieved simply by locking everything away. It is my belief that the single most important response to the thefts is to increase access."

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