Imagine setting out to begin a History 310 spring research paper only to find that every book on the subject is missing from the stacks of the Oliver Wendell Holmes Library.
Many students face identical problems. More than 300 books are stolen from the library every year, and over 275 books have already been reported missing this year, according to Celeste Dascoli, Manager of Access Service at the Oliver Wendell Holmes Library (OWHL).
Since the OWHL has no way of tracking books as they are stolen, these books are only marked missing when a student tries unsuccessfully to find one in the stack, or when they are returned to the Book Drop at the end of each year. Hundreds of books pour in towards the end of Spring term that have not been marked as checked out in the system, meaning that they were stolen. In addition, OPP finds dozens of stolen library books in student dorms as they clean the buildings in preparation for summer session and alumni events.
“It is very selfish of the students to take the books from the library because [they] are essentially taking away others’ rights to gain knowledge,” said Jeffrey Marzluft, Associate Director for Instructional Services at the OWHL.
“I can sense the desperateness of students when a book that they absolutely need is nowhere to be found in the library even when the computer says that the book is supposed to be available,” he continued.
Despite this, students continue to take books from the library without checking them out.
“The way I think is that if I’m going to return these books after I’m done with my research paper, it’s same as checking them out. Whether I check them out or take them without going through a librarian, the books won’t be available to other students anyways. Also, I guess for the more advanced classes I take, ten books for three weeks isn’t enough.” said a female Upper.
Marzluft noticed that the number of stolen books increases in the spring, the same time when many students in History 310 begin working on their term papers.
Often times, students will take entire collections of books on a particular topic back to his or her dorm to continue researching after the OWHL closes.
Other students who then need to use those books have to order them from another library in the NOBLE network. These books take days to arrive, and often might simply be unavailable at another library. “What is even worse is that sometimes we are the only library that has a copy of that book,” said Dascoli.
Dascoli believes students steal library books because they either forget to bring their BlueCards or are blocked out of the library system due to excessive overdue fines.
As an alternative to stealing books, students occasionally hide books in the stacks where others cannot access them. Although librarians periodically search the stacks for misplaced or hidden books, the sheer size of the OWHL’s collection renders frequent and comprehensive searches impossible.
There is currently no security system installed in the library to prevent theft, which is why it is likely that there are many more missing books than the approximately 300 books that are returned at the end of each year without having been checked out.
According to Dascoli, about ten years ago, the library used to mark all books with magnetic tapes and detective bars in front of the main entrance. However, the security system cost over $20,000 a year to maintain and, therefore, was soon abolished.
Although there have been conversations about the possibility of installing security cameras, nothing is being implemented right now, said Dascoli.
“I think installing [security cameras] goes against how Phillips Academy functions as a community. The Blue Book states that honesty is the basic value in which this community rests. If we have to install cameras to make sure that nobody is stealing, that isn’t necessarily making honesty a foundation of the community,” said Marzluft.
Rather than implementing any strict security systems, both Dascoli and Marzluft hope to raise awareness amongst the student body regarding the issue of book theft to alleviate the problem.
“I think the students take [the books] because they don’t consider it stealing. If they thought what they were doing was unrightfully taking the books, I don’t think they would do it,” said Marzluft.
He hopes that once students realize the magnitude of the impact their poor behavior has on their peers, they will think twice before taking books out of the library.