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]

Trends in library theft[edit]

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[edit]

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]

In 2006, a map stolen from the British Library by American antiquarian map dealer Edward Forbes Smiley III was recovered from a dealership in Rickmansworth, Hertfordshire. Smiley stole maps from a number of libraries: the Federal Bureau of Investigations said that he admitted to stealing 97 maps, but it is estimated that he stole more than that.[8] Smiley's thefts were discovered by a librarian at Yale University who found a razor blade left in the library.[9]

In 2007, intern Denning McTague pleaded guilty to stealing an estimated $30,000 of historic documents from the United States National Archives.[10]

In 2008, the British Library found that an Iranian-born reader and academic, Farhad Hakimzadeh, had removed pages from 150 volumes on the history of the Mesopotamian, Persian and Mogul empires. The damage to books held at the British Library is estimated at around £400,000. He also admitted damaging and stealing material from the Bodleian Library at Oxford University.[11]

Barry Landau received a sentence of seven years in 2012 for his numerous thefts. Thousands of documents were found in his apartment, some of which were traced back to the Smithsonian Institution, Yale University, the University of Cambridge, the New York Public Library and the Library of Congress.[12]

In 2012, after a 61-year-old man in Japan was arrested for stealing a dozen library books, a cache of 896 allegedly stolen books was found in his home.[13]

See also[edit]


  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. ^ Fenton, Ben (24 June 2006). "Dealer admits British Library theft". The Telegraph. 
  9. ^ Alberge, Dalya (17 May 2015). "Rare book experts join forces to stop tome raiders". The Guardian. 
  10. ^ National Archives intern guilty of theft - The Denver Post
  11. ^ Laville, Sandra (12 November 2008). "History's missing pages: Iranian academic sliced out sections of priceless collection". The Guardian. 
  12. ^ "Historian in theft plot seeks to sell off assets". CBS News. September 26, 2011. Retrieved December 4, 2011. 
  13. ^ Japanese man brought to book for stealing 900 library books — RT Art & culture[permanent dead link]