Thursday, October 05, 2006

stolen books

I've been reading John Maxwell Hamilton's Casanova was a Book Lover. It's a stitching together of all sorts of book related trivia. In his chapter on stolen books Hamilton says, Ask a librarian which books are most frequently stolen and you'll get this answer: "Shhhhhhh!"

"Everybody steals books," he says, and follows that up with anecdotes about Popes and professors, Academy Award nominees and tourists.

On the other hand, "In 1992, looters of a Sunset Boulevard strip mall had their way with Circuit City and Trak Auto. They did not touch Crown Books."

But do libraries keep records of which books are stolen? "In 1978, Princeton found that more than 4 percent of its library holdings were lost, along with about 10 percent of the books in the branch libraries. ... In the 1990s, the New York Public Library inventoried its 132-mile-long research collection, from which books cannot be checked out. About 1.5 percent of the books were missing. ... But who is to know for certain? ... It's not always easy to distinguish between what is overdue, what is lost in the system, or what is stolen."

He goes on, "By calling attention to book thefts, librarians can put the problem higher on professional crime-fighters' agendas. Unfortunately, news of active crime fighting suggests that books are being stolen, which is bad publicity. Taxpayers might become angry about the management of public libraries. ... For the same reason, libraries don't tell the public that each year they discard many books that are no longer in demand to make room for books people want," that is, "to steal."

This week a patron at the BPL's Claremont branch brought to the reference desk a medical diagnostician's guide and pointed to the pages he wanted to read, or rather, pointed to the place in the book from which the pages he wanted to read had been excised. The edition was eight years old so we ordered a newer one. But this patron was also looking for our Physician's Desk Reference, which is a guide to pharmaceuticals. I couldn't find it either. Has it been stolen?

I wonder if the Claremont branch, being a block away from a hospital, is more prone to losing this particular kind of book.

One of the daily tasks these days is hunting up books patrons have placed requests on. A library user can ask to have a book transported from any BPL branch to a more convenient BPL branch. We run about the stacks twice a day gathering these up. We tend to get between 20 and 30 requests each day. Most days we are unable to locate one or two of these. That seems like a lot. But I'm not going to say the missing books were all stolen. Many an item will turn up, often when another patron steps up to the desk to check it out.


David Lee Ingersoll said...

No doubt many books end up missing because some helpful patron put the book back on a shelf. Not the right shelf but, hey, a shelf's a shelf.

When I'm at Half Price Books I sometimes find myself reshelving books that are in the wrong sections. Since HPB has no computerized inventory it's left up to the employees where to shelve books. Many a book ends up in the wrong place because the employee isn't thinking or doesn't care enough about a subject/genre to determine if said book belongs.

Glenn Ingersoll said...

One of my last tasks before leaving Tech Servs was hunting for books marked Missing. I didn't find very many, about 10%. Still, we should probably do that a couple times a year.