The Cookies are a Lie: Law and Archives Case Study

Learning Objectives

  • Students will be able to identify specific types of law that are applicable to the situation.
  • Students will be able to make suggestions on the best legal course of action given the situation.


The Horacio G. Applebottom collection is a significant and popular research collection at your archives. This collection documents local and national history. It contains many documents relating to the civil war, and late 19th and early 20th century national politics. The Applebottom Family is very protective of their name and legacy in your community. When the collection was donated to your archive 50 years ago, a note about “will provide adequate and appropriate protection, preservation for the collection” was included int the deed of gift.

On a lovely spring day, Mr. Jacob Whiplash, an area historian came to visit your archives with cookies. He often bring baked goods when he visits as a thank you for the hard work that you and your staff do. A new archivist is working the reference desk and refuses the cookies that you accepted because of a new diet. They sit at the reference desk while the rest of the staff partakes of the cookies and Mr. Whiplash researches. This archivist notices Mr. Whiplash adjusting his coat regularly. They find it odd but, pay no attention to it until the second time when they see something being slipped into his pocket. Then they act, not according to policy as there’s no policy about detaining thieves. They discover that Mr. Whiplash has pocketed two letter. They immediately call the staff, mouths half stuffed with cookies, and the police. The police promptly arrested Mr. Whiplash.

After the dust settles and Mr Whiplash is arraigned, it’s discovered that over 100 items are missing from the collection. Several of these are discovered at the home of Mr. Whiplash. The estate of Applebottom has learned of the thief from the papers, and has scheduled an appointment with your director in the very near future to discuss these matters.


  • What if any right do you have to stop this criminal once you discover their thief? What gives you that ability?
  • What types of actions might be taken against the archive?
  • How would you respond to the various legal issue surrounding the case? How would your prove that you complied with all relevant laws and agreements.


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