Theft and Vandalism Force Removal of Library Materials

Michael J. Arvizu
El Vaquero Staff Writer

The number of incidents involving the theft and vandalism of books, newspapers and magazines has risen in the Glendale Community College Library, according to library staff. The library in four weeks has caught roughly the same number of patrons stealing library resources that it would normally catch in an entire semester.

The library has had seven instances of theft in a four-week period where normally roughly six people are caught in the length of one term, said GCC Library Public Services Manager Russell Beckett.

To make matters worse, in an attempt to prevent the electronic security device at the entrance to the library from being triggered, some books are damaged when patrons try to locate the electronic sensors attached to the books. Sometimes the spine is ripped, the cover is taken off and the bar code is peeled off.

Math textbooks that are provided by math instructors and are kept in the reserve collection behind the library circulation desk have had their pages torn out, according to Beckett. Patrons have also been removing entire sections of the library’s newspapers. This has necessitated the relocation of the top five dailies – the Los Angeles Times, the Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, Daily News and USA Today – from the news rack in the public section of the library. These newspapers are now behind the circulation desk for students to check out.

The math department issued a warning to students a few weeks ago stating that if the vandalism continued on its math books, it would remove the textbooks completely from the reserve collection. The math department carried out its threat when textbooks from Math 141, 145 and 146 were removed about three weeks ago.

“It’s frustrating from our standpoint,” said math instructor Pete Witt. “To me, I don’t know how to fix it [vandalism]. It really gets down to people’s ethics or morals.”
According to Beckett, it has not been determined when the textbooks will be returned to the reserve collection.

“We just said `we got to just pull it,'” said Beckett. “Since I’ve been here, at least in the last five years, we’ve never removed current newspapers like that. We’ve never pulled a reserve textbook.”

Normally, class textbooks are kept in the library’s reserve collection behind the circulation desk for students who either forgot their book or cannot afford to pay for one. Unlike regular library books, textbooks can be checked out only for two hours and can be used only in the library.

“It’s too bad because there are people who legitimately have money problems,” said Witt. “Those are the people it’s hurting.”

Beckett said he did not know how to explain the sudden rise in the theft and vandalism of the library’s materials. However, Dean of Student Activities Paul Schlossman said that he was not surprised at the growing number of attempted thefts.

“What seems to happen is that when get around midterms and finals, when there are a lot of papers and research projects due, that’s when it [theft] tends to increase,” said Schlossman.

The library also has had to deal with cases of patrons ripping out the pages of magazines. According to Beckett, some students think that, by ripping out the pages of magazines as opposed to taking the whole magazine, they will be able to slip through the electronic security device. This strategy sometimes backfires because magazines have electronic sensors attached to them as well.

Whether a damaged magazine can be returned to the library collection depends on how bad the damage is. “If we get the material back, we try to tape them [magazines],” said Beckett. “If they’re too damaged, we have to dump them.They’re out of the collection.”

Books that have had their covers removed cannot be returned to the collection and are discarded, meaning that the book will have to be replaced.

“If the library has to spend its budget replacing stolen or damaged materials, that means they can’t buy new materials,” said Schlossman. “They can’t buy new equipment or new computers and things that would benefit students and patrons of the library.”

“People don’t understand that we have a limited budget,” said Dean of Library and Learning Resources Ruth McKernan. “We don’t get these books for free. We have to buy them.”

According to Beckett, the monetary impact of the thefts and vandalism won’t be known until the library conducts its next inventory, which is scheduled for summer.

Schlossman, in dealing with cases in which students are found guilty of theft or vandalism, would rather take an educational approach rather than a legal approach in dealing with these students. Scholssman wants to drive home the point that committing vandalism and theft not only affects the library, but also other students. When a student steals a book, Scholssman said, or when a student vandalizes a book to the point that it cannot be used anymore, a valuable resource is taken away from other students.

“You’re taking these library materials. You’re stealing them. What about your classmate that has that paper to write and the materials aren’t there for them?” said Schlossman.

However, catching those who have committed vandalism against the library’s textbooks is not easy, said Beckett. Usually patrons who commit these acts disappear through the library’s doors long before library staff realize that a book has been vandalized. However, Beckett said that a new strategy will be implemented for reserve books to catch students who vandalize them. Beckett requested that the details of this strategy not be mentioned due to security purposes.

He did make clear, however, that the library will not tolerate theft or vandalism. Anyone found guilty of committing library theft faces the possibility of being dismissed from the college and, in some cases, prosecuted, he said.

As for newspapers and magazines, Beckett adds that stricter monitoring will have to be implemented. The library has library lab technicians that walk the library floor to ensure that proper discipline is maintained at all times. But sometimes even this is not enough to keep the library safe from vandalism.

McKernan said that cameras might be installed to provide extra security to the library and prevent vandalism and theft.

Schlossman gave this warning: “Students need to understand that there could be action from the college’s disciplinary process as well as the potential for criminal action if the situation warrants that.”