February 3, 2014

Book thieves are shrinking the Brooklyn Public Library’s collection


Book theft has been reducing the Brooklyn Public Library.

Book theft has been reducing the Brooklyn Public Library.

It’s not difficult to take a book out from the library and lose track of it; you stop reading it, it ends up on a shelf, and you forget that it even came from a library. Then when you come across it and remember its provenance, the prospect of returning it and coping with the white-hot shame of explaining yourself to a judgmental librarian can seem like too much to bear. It can be totally innocent, of course, but not returning them is theft, and libraries including the Brooklyn Public Library are feeling the strain of it.

Reuven Blau reports for the New York Daily News that, while 2013 numbers are not yet available, 70,144 books were stolen from the Brooklyn Public Library in 2012 — and that this is indicative of a trend that started with staff cuts a few years ago. Library workers point out that after the staff was reduced, thefts spiked from 61,543, a 14% increase. The Brooklyn Heights branch has gone from 30 employees to 20, and one anonymous staffer points out, “We don’t have the staff to watch as much.”

It’s not entirely clear what having more librarians on hand would help the situation. The statistic that Blau quotes is for books that were checked out and not returned, as opposed to shop-lifting style theft, so these malfeasants are walking out with properly acquired books.

Frequently stolen titles include graphic novels, as well as “GED prep guides, nursing and other professional exam cliff notes,” which seems to point the finger at students and young readers. While the BPL added 419,790 physical books to its shelves in 2012, the overall collection across its 60 branches is shrinking, down to 3.3 million books and other materials from 4.1 million in 2009.


Nick Davies was a publicist at Melville House.