or, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to Fear and Loathing at a Public Library Reference Desk

Loan Period: One Guilty Conscience

   January 13th, 2011

Returned DVDs with note "I'm sorry took these w/out checking them out"Over the last few years, we've noticed a rise in DVD thefts at my library. It seemed to happen in waves - once in awhile, we'd suddenly notice ten or so empty DVD cases on the shelf.

In general we're pretty relaxed at my library, and try to err on the side of good customer service. However, as the empty cases built up, staff started investigating ways to curtail the thefts.

But the kicker was that, when we ran the numbers, all of the security options we looked at (cameras, dummy cameras, security cases, a DVD jukebox, keeping DVDs behind the desk, etc.) were actually more expensive than just buying replacement DVDs. At least, this was true for the rate of theft we were seeing.

It seems counter-intuitive, and a little aggravating, but this is the route we took. The Circ staff was especially frustrated by the apparent "do nothing" approach, but we reviewed the numbers multiple times over the years, and replacement was always the cheapest option. Well, that combined stepped-up monitoring by staff.

And then something happened that no one expected: a stack of DVDs with a note attached ended up in our bookbox. Apparently, whoever had been stealing them got a conscience (or else, as one popular theory holds, his mother found them*). And then, a week later, a second stack of disks showed up.

We had been saving the empty cases all along, so re-adding them to the collection was easy. Hopefully, this trend will continue, and we'll end up with all of our DVDs back - just a couple years late. And we haven't noticed many missing lately, so the increased staff monitoring also seems to be working.


*Most of the DVDs that were stolen were Adam Sandler/Will Ferrell/American Pie-type movies, which implies the culprit(s) is probably high school boys.

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13 Responses to “Loan Period: One Guilty Conscience”

  1. Chris Says:

    “*Most of the DVDs that were stolen were Adam Sandler/Will Ferrell/American Pie-type movies, which implies the culprit(s) is probably high school boys.”

    Or 36 year old male IT workers… But not the Will Ferrell ones, he’s just not funny.

  2. Carolyn Says:

    We had to buy special DVD boxes with locks in them to protect our collection. They work great. Now we have empty CD boxes showing up around the library.

  3. Lisa Says:

    We installed RFID as we were losing 5% of our collection each year. Now we find RFID tags sitting underneath and behind the shelves

  4. Gretchen Says:

    This has been my experience also – it always costs more to secure the collection than it does to replace the few items that go for a walkabout. Library staff tend to go a little bit ballistic at the thought that management sits back and LETS the items walk out the door. It’s those darn gold plated editions of Star Wars and Anchorman that we keep buying. 🙂 Our solution has been location of the collection and increased staff vigilance as well, and it works pretty well.

  5. Brian Herzog Says:

    @Gretchen: we played with relocating the DVDs closer to the Circ Desk, but it didn’t seem to do much good. Staff couldn’t keep a constant eye on the area, and anyone wanting to steal something would just take the DVD box to another part of the library.

    @Lisa & @Carolyn: We occasionally find torn-off barcode and other empty cases around the library too – some people will do anything to get something for free. I wonder if they ever thought of checking it out for free – sigh.

  6. Brandy Stillman Says:

    What about taking the DVDs out of the and putting them back in when the box is checked out? This leaves the case empty on the shelf already. They do this at video game stores. Buy some paper DVD sleeves and write the barcode on the outside of the sleeve and file by barcode number (or your own method). It adds a bit to the circ duty, but seems like a cheaper way to protect them.

  7. Brian Herzog Says:

    @Brandy: We considered this, and I do think it is the most workable solution. However, we haven’t implemented it because of the extra burden on the Circ staff, and we also don’t have room behind the Circ Desk for all the disks. But if the theft problem does escalate, this is probably what we’ll do – at least with the high-risk disks.

  8. Oleg K. Says:

    This illustrates a maxim of customer-service professions perfectly: Most of the really insidious occurrences stem from a very small percentage of the customer population. In the case of your library, this happened to be the “stack”er.

    I’m glad you decided that staff vigilance was key since there really isn’t a purpose in making the mostly innocent population feel like thieves who require monitoring.

  9. Brian Herzog Says:

    @Oleg: I completely agree – and I think this sentiment is the same reason why there was such uproar over the TSA’s backscatter machines and other invasive search methods at airports. From birth, Americans are ingrained with the phrase “innocent until proven guilty” – and yet now when we go to airports, we are all considered terrorists until proven innocent. It’s bad enough at airports, and libraries certainly should not view people this way. Our collections don’t belong to us (the staff), they belong to the community – it’s our job to make it as easy as possible for community members to use the collections.

  10. Liz Says:

    Wow… Call me naive, but I like to think maybe the thief had a change of heart in the New Year and wanted to return what he had “taken w/o checking out,” and not just that his mom found them.

    Whatever the reason, I’m glad you got some of your missing movies back, and hopefully they’re still in playable condition.

    So does this mean you have Hamburger Time again?

  11. Brian Herzog Says:

    @Liz: no, sadly – we have season two, but season one wasn’t one of the items that got returned.

  12. Swiss Army Librarian » Watching Movies on Netflix and Copyright Issues :: Brian Herzog Says:

    […] addition to the movies we missed purchasing, another source of holes in the collection is always theft. Tags: collection, collections, dvd, dvds, libraries, Library, movie, movies, netflix, […]

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