Joburg libraries suffering at the hands of book thieves

2015-07-22 08:07
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Johannesburg - Libraries in Johannesburg are suffering at the hands of book thieves who either damage or fail to return books - most notably from the children's sections.

"People steal books in the library," said Ntombi Tladinyane, the city's assistant director in Region E, which includes Sandton.

"If they don't steal, they tear pages in the books (usually art books) or they take the inside of the book out and you'll find the spine there [on the shelf]."

Sandton library is one of the city's biggest and best-resourced libraries, but Tladinyane said it wasn't always easy to replace a stolen book.

She said a William Kentridge art book had been stolen and it couldn't be replaced because it was out of print.

The Kentridge book cover was found empty on one of the shelves, with the inner part of the book gone, she said.

Library manager Margarete Houliston reiterated the concern.

"Despite us having the book security, if they leave the spine of the book and they've got the pages, then they can walk out of the library," she said.

Problems with auditors

Tladinyane said the thefts and non-returns created problems with the auditors.

"People come, take books, disappear and then we have a problem with the Auditor General because books are like assets. If people don't return those books, then we are in trouble," she said.

"And people change cellphones everyday, so [even] if they give you their contact details, you try to contact them... and they are nowhere to be found. Those are our biggest frustrations."

The library has between 11 000 and 12 000 monthly visitors. It serves the greater Sandton area, but many of the library's visitors come from across the city to peruse its vast reference section, she said.

The city's Director of Libraries, Nobuntu Mpendulo, said she was surprised to find that most of the stolen books were from the children's section.

"At some stage I was actually thinking that we should not even [bother putting] the detector system in children's books but we discovered that [those are the books that are] stolen.

'Children also pinch'

"I was actually thinking children will not steal, you know how you make an assumption... because I am saying to myself children's books are not that expensive... but I've been told that children also pinch," she said.

She urged parents to accompany their children to libraries so that librarians could capture the child's information and register them, which is free.

She said libraries were given a budget of R12 million every year, which was intended for purchasing new books as well as to replenish missing stock.

Mpendulo said while more than one library usually had a copy of a specific book, in some cases, books weren't that easy to replace.

Book theft, however, was not just a problem facing Johannesburg libraries.

"You can do whatever you want, you can go anywhere else in the world... The Library of Congress [in the United States] is so protected with all the cameras, but people still take books from there.

"I mean when you go [there], you come into the foyer and there are cameras everywhere, but people steal books."

The Library of Congress is the research library that officially serves the US Congress, but has been opened to the public as a national library. It is situated on Capitol Hill, Washington DC, near the White House.

'If I read it, I must return it'

She said South Africans needed to be taught a culture of appreciating shared property and of viewing books as city assets.

"If I read it, I must return it so that someone else can read it."

Mpendulo said another costly issue facing libraries was the sending of reminders via post for books that had not been returned.

It was becoming too expensive and the city wanted more sustainable alternatives, Mpendulo said.

"The amount of money spent on the postage [is a lot]. As a result, we've decided to stop because you can actually use that money to replenish the stock."

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