LETTER: Saddened by theft of library books

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I recently went to Horsham library to collect an audio book I had previously ordered, only to be told that it had been lost.

On questioning the senior librarian further, I discovered that ‘lost’ was a euphemism for theft, as I was told that a significant number of books of all types have met this fate.

These books are stolen by either by the borrower not returning them, or by people simply walking out with them.

Why, if the library has electronic monitoring at its exit, are people not challenged when the monitoring alarms sound or, in the case of borrowers keeping the item, isn’t something done to have these books returned.

I was dismayed, when I put these questions to the librarian, to discover that little or no effort is made to contact the defaulting borrower apart from a basic email encouraging them to return their overdue item.

I asked why these matters were not reported to the police as this is clearly theft. The answer I received was so lame I could not believe it, that it would be too expensive to go to court, and nothing would happen as most of the thefts are committed by middle class people.

As far as people walking out of the library with books, again I was astonished to hear that as these alarms were going off ‘every 5 minutes’, people were far too busy to do anything about it. In fact I was informed that the library staff have been discouraged from talking to the public about the haemorrhaging of these books and that it had been decided by ‘senior management’ not to pursue any course of action to retrieve these stolen items.

As a retired police officer, and more importantly a tax payer, I am saddened, and at a loss to have encountered such an apathetic response to my questioning.

This capitulation by library staff and their management is one that should, in my view, be addressed urgently, so that the public at large can continue to benefit from, and enjoy, all the facilities that a library has to offer.

Nick Parker

Six Acres, Slinfold

A spokesman for West Sussex County Council responded:

West Sussex County Council Library Service would like to reassure residents that we do take the loss of resources seriously. Customers who fail to return items are contacted three times and the vast majority of items are returned. Similar to shops, when someone tries to take a book out of the library that has not been checked out correctly, staff are alerted via an alarm. Usually this is just a simple mistake by the borrower which can be easily rectified by staff.

Staff are instructed not to try and physically restrain a suspect and that is supported by advice from the Police. Sanctions regarding library use are applied if customers fail to return items. When persistent theft is identified the Police are involved and CCTV evidence can be used, this level of misuse is rare but successful prosecutions by the police have taken place.

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