Best-sellers stolen from Pittsburgh-area libraries

Lots of people have had the experience of being unable to put down a particularly compelling book. Well, area police are looking for someone who’s having trouble putting down — and putting back on library shelves — hundreds of them.

Thousands of dollars’ worth of best-selling books have been stolen in recent months from suburban libraries throughout Allegheny County and in Butler County.

“We have an active, open investigation going on and we’re working with multiple [police] agencies,” Fox Chapel Police Chief David Laux said Tuesday.

Among the libraries dealing with book loss is the Cooper-Siegel library in Fox Chapel, Northland library in McCandless, Mt. Lebanon library, and Cranberry library in Butler County. There may be others.

Jill McConnell, interim director of the Cooper-Siegel library, said the problem was discovered in early summer.

“Basically, it was a situation where we noticed that some of our new books and best-seller books that were supposed to be available were missing. We reached out to other libraries and learned that the same thing was happening in other places,” she said.

Ms. McConnell said her staff discovered that books had been going missing since earlier in the year.

A staff member at Cooper-Siegel who also works at the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh mentioned the situation and learned that a man had been identified by Carnegie staff as a suspect in some missing books within the Carnegie system. That person was banned from the Carnegie library properties but was not charged with actually stealing books, Ms. McConnell said.

But his identity was disclosed to Ms. McConnell’s staff members, who later noticed that person, a male, in the library. “We followed him around a little bit and he didn’t take anything. He hasn’t been back since,” she said.

Trina Walker, director of communications and creative services for the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh, said staff discovered several months ago that someone was stealing books and there was “a strong suspicion” as to who it was.

She said the person was banned and told that he would be charged with trespassing if he entered Carnegie properties. She wasn’t able to immediately quantify the loss but said it was something “we took very seriously. Theft denies access to other people. It’s a misuse of public funds.”

The value of the loss at Cooper-Siegel is estimated at $6,000, she said. Ms. McConnell said Northland and Mt. Lebanon staff members have indicated that their respective losses total between $4,000 and $5,000.

The problem has spread outside Allegheny County lines to Butler County.

Cranberry Area Public Library Director Leslie Pallotta said one book has been found to be missing. She said she was alerted about a month ago by a person who purchased a book through an online shopping service.

“The person told us that our stamp was inside the book,” Ms. Pallotta said. No other thefts have been discovered. Ms. Pallotta notified Cranberry police.

It appears the same modus operandi is in place in Allegheny County. Ms. McConnell said she’s been told that it appears her missing books are being sold online as well.

“This is just very sad, because it’s a large chunk of our most popular collection that our patrons don’t have access to. And it’s a disservice to the whole county. We all share our resources [because we’re part of a borrowing consortium], so it affects every library in the county,” Ms. McConnell said.

Karen Kane: or at 724-772-9180.

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