Dealing with Theft

This morning I came into work as usual expecting it to be a rather uneventful day. Said good morning to fellow coworkers as I struggled with my purse, a bag of library books I was returning, and a bag of cookies and water that were for the Open Mike Poetry Night event slated for today. Nothing was out of the ordinary for a normal Tuesday. That is until my supervisor came in and I asked her how last night went. Her response, “It was weird…but I don’t remember why it was weird.” We laughed and I went on opening up the department. I was in the middle of logging on to one of the staff computers when she exclaimed from behind the partition, “Now I remember!”  I quickly, well semi-quickly, rounded the partition to see my cubbie box filled with book covers. Our page had found four books in my area of maintenance that did not fit the covers they were encased in. Someone had removed the covers and placed them on different books and put them back in their place, then stole the original books. My supervisor went to see if more could be found and she was able to find one more before she got sick with sadness and anger at the solid evidence of theft. They were beautiful art books from some of the great artists. In fact my heart broke has I held the empty covers in my hand.

 Why? Why would someone be so selfish? We both had an inkling of who the perpetrator could be. One of our security guards had caught a person about a week or two ago attempting to steal an art book. They had stripped it off all the library markings and taken off the cover but had in fact left the target. When they tried to pass through the security gate it went off alerting the person on the desk. They were able to stash the book behind a planter and exit the building but unbeknown to them our security guard was watching the whole time. When they came back in they were escorted off the premise and banned for two weeks. That weekend our page found the cover wrapped around a different book.

 There’s no way to prove that they are responsible for the books last night or the books that were found this morning, for a total of nine books. We believe they were taken to be sold, as a local book seller did get a copy of one of the books we are missing last week. But they did not see any of our markings in the book so they believe it’s not the same book. However they didn’t look for evidence of targets taken out or stickers removed. So that lead might be investigated farther. My supervisor believes we should go to these shops and check for ourselves. We could possible replace some of them as they aren’t that expensive but with a tight public library budget that might take some time. Theft is a major problem in public libraries, in libraries in general. A colleague who works at an academic library in a neighboring city told me that they too had experienced a series of thefts in the last months. From the Friends of the Library, these books retail for nearly $100, so a $25 FOL membership is nothing.

 I’ve never understood how someone could think it would be okay to still from a library, a public library at that. It’s part of your community it’s not your personal picking grounds to supplement your own private library. And it’s most definitely not the place to supplement your income by selling off the things you stole from it. Libraries are at a lost for dealing with theft. When theft happens in the commercial world they can pass the lost on to the consumer in the form of higher prices. But who can we pass the buck to? Although it’s not as if our customers aren’t hurt by theft of items, not just those who would have checked out the stolen items but the people who would have checked out the items that we would have bought if we didn’t have to spend it on the replacement of stolen items. What about the money we spend on security to protect the collection…that money could be spent on beefing up the collection.

 It’s just so upsetting to see this selfish act and know that there’s nothing I can really do. It isn’t the first time I’ve had to deal with the discovery of theft in the library and it won’t be the last, but I’m still left with the question…why?

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