The North Adams Public Library staff has had to stay nimble with its theft prevention strategies as thieves change their tactics to keep up with changing
The North Adams Public Library staff has had to stay nimble with its theft prevention strategies as thieves change their tactics to keep up with changing technologies and media. (Scott Stafford / Berkshire Eagle Staff / photos.berkshireeagle.com )

NORTH ADAMS -- Here's the good news: Nobody is stealing VHS tapes from the library much anymore.

The bad news is that there is plenty of other stuff to steal -- library thieves keep moving up the chain of technology as the popular media formats change.

According to Robin Martin, interim director of the North Adams Public Library, when VHS tapes of commercial TV shows, movies and documentaries were the leading media of choice, they were frequently targeted by thieves who would make off with the tapes and sell them.

Since then, thieves have targeted CDs, DVDs, and nonfiction books on CD, Martin noted. All through the years, though, theft of first edition or rare books and graphic novels have also been a favorite for thieves.

"It is terrible and ongoing," she said. "As our youth services librarian said, ‘We keep finding new ways to combat theft and they keep finding new ways to steal.' "

Martin noted that roughly $10,000 worth of library property is stolen annually, and is almost evenly divided among movies, music and both audio and print books.

It comes to about 0.5 percent of the total inventory, "but when you lose 30 DVDs over the course of a year, it gets significant," Martin said.

Some of the stolen items turn up for sale on eBay or in used book stores, she said.

In an effort to recover stolen, or unreturned, property, some folks have been taken to court over the past two years over a total of roughly $30,000 worth of property.

"That would be an entire year's book budget for the adult department," Martin noted.

Depending on the item, various anti-theft tactics have been tried.

DVDs were kept in locked plastic cases, Martin said. But then they would start finding the broken cases in the trash and the DVD missing. The same is true of CDs.

Now, the latest movies and music cases are put on the shelves for display, but the discs are stored behind the desk, so thieves can get the case, but not the movie.

Many of the new CDs are kept in automated and locked storage cases that require a code to retrieve a CD.

Non-fiction audio books have become a recent favorite of thieves, so the audio book section was moved to an area where the reference librarian can keep an eye on them.

"The staff watches what's going on, but you can't watch every person all the time," Martin said.

There are also more security cameras in the building now, and the rare or more expensive books are kept in a vault, Martin said.

Then there are the cases of library patrons who check out materials and don't bring them back -- to the tune of about $20,000 per year. Library officials try to be understanding about unreturned items, Martin noted.

"Just bring the items back," she said. "We are the keepers of these items and they belong to everybody in North Adams."

To reach Scott Stafford:
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