Tuesday, August 30, 2011

The Book Thief

The Book Thief
It's been a while since I've done one of these library thief stories, but this one is too amazing to ignore.  It seems that a single Chicago man has practically put suburban libraries there out of business.  James Jackson has stolen thousands of items from libraries in the western suburbs of the city - and had the nerve (stupidity?) to sell them on Amazon.com.  The guy even promised to "acquire" specific items for interested customers.

The Chicago Sun-Times has the details:
A 47-year-old west suburban man who amassed an impressive collection of reference materials — thousands of books and DVDs — was arrested Friday when police discovered the materials had been stolen from libraries to sell online.
James F. Jackson, 43, remained in the DuPage County Jail in Wheaton on Tuesday in lieu of $25,000 bail, charged with three felonies: theft of government property, library theft and theft/possession of stolen property over $300, according to Lisle police.
(So the guy is either 47 or 43 years of age - typical newspaper editing these days.)

I have to assume that these items were clearly marked as library property and that the doofus was stealing only the highest quality (and newest) items he could get his hands on - so why did no one report him when they got a look at what they had purchased from him online?

Is security that lax in Chicago's public libraries?  Come on, now.  He stole thousands of items from a limited number of libraries.  Did no one in the system even notice how often this man was coming inside to carry armloads of books and DVDs out the door?  Don't most libraries have electronic security these days that will set off an alarm when an item crosses the barrier without first having been checked out?

I don't get it.  Maybe I'm just naive, but I have to blame this kind of thing as much on the library staff as on the thief too stupid to get away with his crime.


  1. I don't think the article mentioned how many of his thefts occurred while he was still working as a janitor at the library - while working there, it would have been pathetically easy to steal things. The only library I've ever worked at where security measures were in place to prevent even staff from stealing things was the Newberry Library. Everywhere else, the staff doors don't have security gates. Also, not every library necessarily has decent security measures in place. My mom's public library had no security gates at all, until they renovated the building. Up until that point, they didn't make a big deal about their lack of security and let patrons just assume they had something in place. The people counters, to those not in the know (or not willing to test them out), could be mistaken for some sort of security setup.

    Regular inventories of the collection should have revealed that a large number of materials were missing, but that depends on how often (if ever) inventories are conducted. At my own library, I think we try to do it once every year or two in our main stacks. The government documents area had never been inventoried, up until this past summer. Even when we do inventories, somehow missing materials are still not always noticed. We depend on student workers for our inventories to be completed in a timely fashion, so perhaps the students aren't always as thorough as they should be. I'm not sure how a public library would conduct and inventory, or who would do it - it takes a lot of people and/or the right technology to do it quickly.

    So, basically, if you know what you're doing and/or the idea of stealing books from a library doesn't bother you enough to make you act guilty, most libraries are far from theft-proof. The more a person knows about a library, the more they know about the ways to avoid being caught.

    The Lisle Library District has a collection of 170,000 items - I'm not sure how many things would need to be missing for it to be really noticeable. You might be interested to hear that the district is now seeking a new Library Director - I wonder if this problem is part of the reason why? (http://joblist.ala.org/modules/jobseeker/controller.cfm?rssjobid=17772)

  2. I knew I could count on you, Library Girl, to give me the scoop on how something like this keeps happening across the country. My own library has two security gates that do a pretty good job of "beeping" at you if you've failed to check out a book via one of the self-check-out stations near the door. I've had it fail before, but it's most often happened when it doesn't recognize a book I legitimately checked out. It did once let me walk out with a book I hadn't checked out, though, so I wonder what its accuracy rate really is.

  3. This guy is a terrible person for stealing from the libraries which are there for all of us to use. Yikes, I hope they throw the book at him!

  4. Hey Sam, love the blog! I just subscribed and will be reading along moving forward!

  5. Kathleen, I don't have anything good to say about the guy, that would be a stretch. Maybe he doesn't kick dogs or pull the tails of cats. :-)

    Brad, thanks for the kind words...glad to have you with us.