November 1, 2017
Harry Potter and the Missing Books of Kansas City
by Ryan Harrington
We recently wrote about how the types of books most often stolen from certain bookstores might not surprise you. Those oft-purloined Kerouacs, Bukowskis, and Hemingways are clearly a case of rebel writers speaking to rebel browsers.
But as Kelsey Ryan writes for the Kansas City Star, the books that go missing from the Kansas City Public Library might indeed surprise you. Seemingly contradicting the predictability of the bookstore phenomenon, the current contenders for most-missed books at the KC library include such wholesome favorites as the Harry Potter series, the Bible, and Diary of a Wimpy Kid. But as crime changes, so does prevention. Ryan writes:
Starting last fall and finishing up over the summer, library staff put new tags in every book in every branch that use Radio Frequency Identification (RFID), or a tiny antennae in every item. If books leave the library and they haven’t been properly checked out, an alarm will sound. It’s a more sophisticated system than the old magnetic strips the library used to put in books, [the director of library collections] said.
Even with the new technology, we can’t throw the book at library patrons just yet. In this list the Kansas City Library is actually calculating the books that are missing in general, so a certain amount of mis-shelving, or deliberate hiding may be to blame. In fact, the list of most-checked-out books coincides rather neatly with the list of books that disappear most frequently — suggesting that the chaos of circulation likely skews the results.
Less wholesome tomes can wiggle their way out of circulation as well. Ryan reports that books on witchcraft have a tendency to disappear, thanks to morally-minded patrons who move them out of reach of the idle hands of children. Curiously, Sun Tzu’s Art of War made the list. Perhaps readers hope it will help decode our current administration, while fearing they might end up on some sort of watchlist for reading it.
Ryan Harrington is a senior editor at Melville House.