Library Theft

Aug 06, 2007

Public libraries are great - you get to fill your arms full of the latest bestsellers, even DVDs, and sometimes even video games...But you are supposed to bring it all back, you know! Read about a few people who didn't quite grasp this concept.

Whether or not the theft involved is significant, stories of purloined library items always seem to get plenty of press coverage. Even though libraries do try to take some measure of precaution to ensure that the items they loan out are, in fact, returned in a timely fashion (as anyone who's ever had to cough up a hefty overdue fine will attest), there are, of course, always a few people who will try to get around the rules, whether out of carelessness or for personal profit.

One type of library theft that has been on the rise is that of audiovisual materials -- specifically DVDs and CDs. Although most people think of libraries strictly in terms of books, many large public libraries do in fact carry large selections of popular movies and music, and these items are popular not only with library patrons but also with people who see these 'free movies' as a source of 'free money'. One such case occurred this past spring in Cincinnati, where a woman had her four children open library accounts and then used their cards to check out some 837 children's video games and DVDs - items worth some $17,000. The children used some 70 different aliases to get around the library's policy of checking out no more than 10 DVDs per patron -- they were able to do this as children do not need to show identification to receive library cards in the Cincinnati Public Library system. The items they checked out were sold to local resale shops, and the premeditation involved as well as the items being sold indicates that this was, in fact, a case of theft.

Another case involving significant losses recently occurred in Colorado, where the Denver Public Library reported losing some 2,100 items valued at over $35,000. The thief in this case somehow obtained 7 different library cards and checked out the maximum number of items (300) on each card, then sold the books on craigslist. He also checked out (with intent to sell) hundreds of items from libraries in the surrounding counties -- Arapahoe County reported that he'd checked out some 250-300 items and Douglas County reported some 300 items long overdue -- over $11,000 worth (of items, not fines).

Although the Colorado case involves a library patron who was obviously looking to profit from his actions, in other cases a library system will press charges against a patron who may just be absent-minded or disorganized. A woman is currently being held in jail in Iowa for failing to return some 51 items checked out on her 4 children's cards before moving to Illinois. There is no evidence that she ever intended to sell the books, she may or may not have intended to keep them for her own or her children's personal use, or she may have just had the movers pack up the library books by accident. Needless to say, she is now paying a very high price for her carelessness -- when it comes to overdue books, the Iowa city library system does not mess around. In light of the press coverage this case has received, it is likely that there has been quite the rush on Iowa libraries as other patrons rush to get their books back on time lest they, too, be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.

Yet another case which received a lot of media attention but in which the criminal intent of the perpetrator was minimal involved a library worker at the Springfield, Illinois public library who was given the task of cataloging donated books. When she found a title which was not needed in the collection (a duplicate or a textbook or some other type of item the library did not want or need), she kept the item and sold it on eBay. Although she did make several thousand dollars by selling such items (hardly a fortune, though, especially in light of how little she was paid to do her job), the items she sold were ones which would in many cases have ended up in the library's dumpsters. She was tried for theft, pled guilty to a reduced charge, paid restitution and performed community service -- and, needless to say, has since given up on having anything to do with the public library system, instead choosing to purchase her books on amazon.com.

Finally, we have the case of two men in Knox County, Tennessee. They did not bother to make up false names or to check out books or DVDs, nor did they sell their ill-gotten gains online through eBay or craigslist. Instead, they broke into the public library at night and stole copper and air conditioning units. Well, they may have to do time, but at least they won't be facing any overdue fines!

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