Book theft and the purpose of libraries

Reading the YALSA listserv can be infuriating (and nerve-wracking) but I still do it everyday. I never post a reply which makes me a creepy lurker but it’s often because I don’t usually have too much to say. Today is different! I have something to say! Well, at least something to say to all of you; I don’t think I have the cojones* to state my opinions to the whole listserv. I’ll take baby steps to bravery over nothing, I suppose.

Here’s what’s rousing my ire today: a librarian posted a plea for help on the listserv bemoaning the fact that books are often stolen (or just not returned for whatever reason) from the library. Specifically these books are GED study guides. Study guides can be a bear for reference departments because usually a new one comes out every year. When they cost $25 (libraries do get about a 40% discount from publishers so it’s more like $15 at the end of the day) and there’s a good chance they won’t stay in the library the whole year, it can be frustrating. I understand. Many of the more “exciting” YA books get stolen every year: copies of Go Ask Alice; Ellen Hopkins’ books – she writes a lot about drug abuse; books about sexuality or GLBTQ issues. It happens. I try to replace the ones that I can but you can’t do everything. You just have to hope that maybe the person who stole it, or who just kept forgetting to return it, really needed that book. If a teen is in a place that they are too scared or nervous or ashamed to check out the book about the particular topic that hey take it, then they just need to have it. I’m okay with that. I think that’s our job.

But here’s where I started to get really annoyed. I don’t know if I’m supposed to mention him/her or the library because they sent it in an email. I don’t know how attribution works here so I’ll paraphrase: a librarian said that at his/her library they will lend out the GED books with a refundable $10 deposit at the reference desk.

What?! (I need an interrobang for this!)


So . . . if you want to study for the GED you have to have ask specifically at the reference desk for the study guide, give them $10, and be treated like a child in order to check out a book? Lots of libraries circulate iPads without cash deposits; how does a $15 GED study book become so much more valuable than that? Perhaps I am being patronizing when I am talking about people who are trying to earn their GED, but can’t we cut them a break? Maybe they don’t have $10 that day or maybe they are having a hard time getting a job where they can even spend $10 – even a $10 that they know they will get back – in order to get their book. It’s pretty hard to find a decent job if you don’t have a high school diploma. Very compassionate, librarians.

This is only part one of my rant. Here’s part two. Are you feeling ragey yet?

Another librarian chimed in with the wise opinion that if people really wanted to get that GED study guide so bad, maybe they should save up a dollar or two a week so they can just buy** the book. Really? (Interrobang, again!) Couldn’t that be said for all books in the library – that if people really wanted a resource they should just save up for it? Self-reliance! Pull yourself up by your bootstraps! USA! USA!

Nope. That’s not the point. If a patron wants to and is able to save up to purchase a resource of course they can do that. But some people can’t and they shouldn’t necessarily have to. That’s what libraries are for; this is our purpose in life. Not everyone can afford to buy all the books and resources that they need and want. If I tried to do that for all of the books I read during the year, I would have book debt rivaling that of my student loans. Yes, the student loans that I took out so that I could become a librarian and provide free access to people who need it.

Maybe I should reply to those librarians on the listserv; maybe it’s not fair that I”m aruging with them and they don’t get to respond to me. I’ll consider that but in the meantime, I’m not trying to say that they are terrible. I know that it can be easy to lose sight of the purpose when you’re beleaguered by budget woes. I just wish they could retain some perspective and a little bit more compassion.

Until next time when I’m sure I’ll have a review of Sweet Tooth (really good; very thought provoking) and Shades of Earth (can’t wait to start!).

*I like to put an asterisk next to words in other languages like I’m writing a fancy book. Haben Sie Angst über dem?

**I also do it for emphasis.

3 thoughts on “Book theft and the purpose of libraries

  1. You’re absolutely right — the people borrowing the GED books are the ones least likely to have that $10. I don’t know what the solution would be, though. Great post!

  2. This is an interesting issue. Would it be more palatable to you if the refundable deposit were less expensive? I’m not sure whether my local library even allows GED books to be taken out of the library. I know other reference books don’t circulate–maybe that’s the solution (I would prefer to be able to take the book out with a deposit).

    1. I think it’s the idea of the deposit, coupled with the fact, that it appears to be only the GED books that have a deposit applied to them. If the deposit was for all sorts of “expensive” things, then I would still think it was stupid but it wouldn’t seem so demeaning. And having things not circulate is fine, too, if you provide a circulating resource. I don’t know, libraries already have fines, it seems weird to add a deposit on those.

      Sorry! For some reason I get so involved in this issue! 🙂

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