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Those of a certain age will remember the campaign to disuade people from purchasing the books of disgraced President Richard M Nixon. Their tag line was "Don't buy books from crooks." They felt Mr Nixon's conduct in office was so egregious that his post resignation efforts to make money from book writing should be spurned. As a librarian I'm opposed to censorship which is why I'm relieved that this diary is not about Mr Nixon, his book writing and those who didn't buy them (I was one). Follow me below the squiggle for the clue in.

The popularity of purchasing books on line has exploded. Not only have crooks taken notice, they've figured an angle. First they find a library and case the contents and security set up. Unfortunately, in a great many public, community college and university libraries they will find product and easily defeated security.

The thieves closely observe library operations and note the busiest periods. They observe the circulation area and make note of the staff who are the least concerned when the security gate alarm goes off.

During busy times, it throws a real wrench into circulation desk operations to have a staff member stop checking-out patrons and conduct a thorough search of patron backpacks, briefcases or satchels that set off the alarm. What is more, most of such searches turn up nothing untoward. Searching a patron's belongings for library owned contraband is not a duty staff relish. There is in such a search an implicit shaming of the patron and mortification of the staff member conducting the search when it yields nothing. Even when library materials are found by such a search, the patron can say they just forgot to bring the materials to the circulation clerk. And even though staff may not be disposed to buy this explanation there is little else they can do.

But it most instances the materials will go through the security gate and out the library door in silence. Crooks have long since obtained and carry devices or specially outfitted backpacks that defeat library security gates. Though security gates may look impressive and are certainly expensive the truth is they are not that effective. Library security gates are there to remind honest people to be honest.

The real way to help libraries is to make you the online book buyer aware that you may be purchasing stolen materials.

What sorts of materials get stolen?

Current or recently published textbooks, medical dictionaries and reference works; graduate and professional school test preparation materials; current bestsellers; the DVDs/Blu-rays of recent popular movies and tv shows are all items that can be stolen from libraries and quickly sold to you online.

Sellers will often include the term " contains library markings" in the item description. This description is supposed to put you at ease by suggesting that the sellar obtained withdrawn items from the library. That certainly happens, libraries do withdraw materials and those materials can end up being sold legitimately online.

The devil is in the subtle details. To the purchaser its great news to get that 2012 MCAT prep book at pennies on the dollar of its retail list price. It seems almost too good to be true. That is your clue. The chances are very good that NO library has withdrawn its MCAT 2012 test preparation books even though we are at the end of the year.

Clue: A newly published item described as having "library markings"

The prices of some of these resold books are simply ridiculous. A currently used Chemistry textbook can run north of $100 retail but this item online is selling for between $5-$20. Again, details matter. If the Chemistry text is the latest edition and still used by various academic institutions, the economics for the bookseller are suspect especially if "library markings" appear in the description. However, if the textbook is even one edition removed from the newest edition extreme depreciation does occur.

Clue: Does the pricing offered make sense compared to the retail price?

So what is to be done?

When you receive your online purchase check to see if it is recently published and contains library stamps. If it does not make sense to you that a library would get rid of a new book, I assure you it would not make sense to most libraries or librarians either. So attempt to discover the identity of the library and contact their staff to ascertain if the book was actually withdrawn. Libraries will be reasonable about the final disposition of the stolen material you innocently purchased; especially if you provide information that may help them and the police catch a thief.

In the final analysis, you are not getting a deal when you innocently purchase a stolen library book from some online seller. You are paying for that book twice once with taxes and now online. Lets clean up this racket and not buy books from crooks .


4:30 PM PT: Folks just remember that a "Withdrawn" rubber stamp can be purchased as readily by a thief as a library. If you are suspicious the best thing to do is contact the library. Thanks for the Recs & Comments

Originally posted to dfwlibrarian on Mon Dec 10, 2012 at 05:00 AM PST.

Also republished by Progressive Friends of the Library Newsletter.

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