Cookbooks are disappearing at some libraries
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At first blush, the specter of a band of culinary misfits stealing cookbooks from neighborhood libraries might seem comical.
But it is no laughing matter for the libraries where expensive cookbooks have been disappearing from the shelves.
Earlier this year, Pleasant Hills Public Library discovered that 26 cookbooks priced at more than $600 were missing.
At Whitehall Public Library, cookbooks totaling more than $1,000 could not be accounted for in a recent inventory.
Jefferson Hills Public Library no longer has a set of six cookbooks based on a public television cooking series that had been donated by a resident who received them from WQED for a donation.
"They were very popular. People watch the TV show and wanted to run in here and check the book out, but there is none," library director Jan Reschenthaler said. "People walk out with them without checking out ... you'd like to think that wouldn't happen."
All of the incidents are under investigation.
While cooking publications are largely accounted for at Baldwin Borough Public Library, the institution is not immune to the more common problem of patrons checking out materials and not returning them -- either because they forget to bring them back or they intentionally keep the items.
Director Joyce Chiappeta said part of the problem is the erroneous assumption that taking from an institution is not stealing.
"What they are doing is taking something that someone else might want and taking it from taxpayers," she said.
"It isn't a victimless crime even though they don't see the person they are stealing from."
Marilyn Jenkins, executive director of the Allegheny County Library Association, said she is aware of the ongoing theft problem, which she called "the cost of doing business in the library world -- just as it is in the retail world."
Libraries have implemented strategies for combating theft, including electronic tracking devices, contracting with collection agencies and filing charges, Ms. Jenkins said.
If a patron reaches a "fine threshold" for overdue items, he will be electronically denied access to the Allegheny County Library Association system, which is made up of 45 public libraries, including Baldwin Borough, Castle Shannon, Jefferson Hills, Mt. Lebanon, Pleasant Hills and Whitehall. The fine threshold varies among the libraries.
DVDs are closely monitored because their small size and light weight make them more prone to theft.
In Jefferson Hills, DVDs are kept in anti-theft cases; in Whitehall, they're behind the front desk; and in the Communit Library of Castle Shannon, they are in full view of the front desk.
"We have had to resort to expensive security cases with locks for DVDs, CDs and Wii games," Mrs. Chiappetta said.
In Mt. Lebanon, security gates stop patrons from passing through if any materials have not been electronically checked out. That, however, did not prevent biographies of Republican presidents and massage therapy books from going missing in recent years, library director Cynthia Richey said.
In Pleasant Hills, DVDs and cookbooks are placed near the front desk so staffers can keep tabs on them.
"Current issues of cooking magazines and things we feel might walk out the door, you have to ask for at the desk," youth services librarian Joanna Heywood said.
Signs have been posted announcing the thefts and warning that police will be notified if anyone is caught stealing. The sign also states that the library reserves the right to inspect bookbags and backpacks. "Materials taken illegally can be left in the book drop, and no questions will be asked," the sign concludes.
Mrs. Chiappetta said libraries also are accommodating in dealing with checked-out items that are not returned.
"People need not be afraid to return the items," she said. "Often libraries are willing to work with the person to waive or reduce fines because they want the items back."
First Published July 28, 2011 5:56 am