Library theft

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Theft from libraries is the crime of stealing books, DVDs or other media from libraries. It is typically prevented by installing electronic article surveillance alarms at the doors. Library materials are tagged and if the tag is not deactivated it sounds an alarm. In some libraries with older or rare materials, readers are not allowed to take coats or bags into the reading area except for a few items in a clear plastic bag.[1] Security cameras are not commonly used in libraries for privacy reasons.

One study commissioned in the UK estimated the average loss rate of libraries to theft at 5.3%.[2]

In the U.S. state of Pennsylvania, the third conviction for library theft is a felony, regardless of the value of material.[3]

Library thieves, who may be staff or regular visitors of the library, risk being discovered if a book is found in the library catalog but missing from the shelves. To avoid this, some library thieves have been careful to also steal the catalog card describing the book.[4]


In public libraries, librarians have noticed common themes in what subjects are most frequently stolen. Books with topics like sex and witchcraft are popular with thieves, as are guides for General Educational Development testing.[5]

In a poll taken in 1996, the top three books that went missing were: The Joy of Sex, GED Examination Books, and the Prophecies of Nostradamus.[6]

Theft incidents

Rare books departments of libraries especially fall target to professional thieves. In 1996, two rare early Mormon manuscripts were stolen from the Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton County, when the thief requested the manuscript and replaced it with a facsimile.[7]

Document theft is the crime of stealing documents of historical, literary, or cultural interest from public or private archives, often for the purpose of sale to private collectors. In many cases, document thieves occupy positions of trust, or have established records of legitimate accomplishment, prior to their crimes. Examples of notable convicted document thieves include former New York State archivist Daniel D. Lorello,[8] Frede Møller-Kristensen, who between 1968 and 1978 stole some 1,600 historical books worth more than $50 million from the Danish National Library, and antiquities dealer E. Forbes Smiley III, who stole nearly 100 maps from libraries in the United States and Great Britain over the course of eight years.[9] In addition to letters, maps, and other manuscript material, rare books also attract the attention of document thieves. John Charles Gilkey, for instance, stole hundreds of thousands of dollars' worth of rare books over the course of many years. These crimes were largely the product of a personal obsession, illustrating the range of motives in document thefts.[10]

See also


  1. ^ "Help for Researchers: Cloakroom and Lockers". British Library. Retrieved 3 April 2013.
  2. ^ Planning Public Library Buildings: Concepts and Issues for the Librarian - Michael Dewe - Google Books
  3. ^ Pennsylvania Library Theft Act, Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh Archived 2012-11-01 at the Wayback Machine.
  4. ^ The curious tale of the stolen books, by Martin Vennard for BBC News Magazine, April 24, 2013.
  5. ^ Epstein, Edward. "U.S. libraries checking out book theft / 'Most-stolen' list will help curb crime". SFGate.
  6. ^ Mosley, Shelley; Caggiano, Anna; Charles, John (October 15, 1996). "The "Self-Weeding" Collection: The Ongoing Problem of Library Theft, and How To Fight Back". Library Journal. 121 (171): 38–40.
  7. ^ "Two Mormon Publications Stolen". Association of College & Research Libraries. September 26, 1996. Retrieved 18 December 2015.
  8. ^ Albany Times Union, 7 August 2008
  9. ^ New York Times, 22 June 2006
  10. ^ Bartlett, Allison Hoover (2009). The Man Who Loved Books Too Much: The True Story of a Thief, a Detective, and a World of Literary Obsession. Riverhead. ISBN 9781594488917.
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