When libraries go 'self-serve', thieves hit strong

Self-service pick-up for DVDs at the Mid-Columbia Libraries has become so popular that patrons have helped themselves to nearly 550 movies at branches in Kennewick and Pasco without bothering to check them out.

Worse than that: They've been slipping DVDs out of their cases and leaving the empties on the reserved items shelves.

About 1,600 DVDs and videocassettes have been taken or misplaced during the past year that are worth about $32,000, based on current retail prices.

They represent about 3.5 percent of the audio-visual collection, said Kyle Cox, director of administrative services for Mid-Columbia Libraries.

Library officials report that thefts of reserved DVDs and videocassettes at the libraries' two largest branches prompted them to adopt security cameras to monitor checkout activity and to keep reserved videos behind customer service counters. The procedural change means the public now has to ask for reserved items.

"We've had to take proactive steps to prevent thefts of new DVDs, which are high-demand items," Cox said.

Library records show that so far in 2008, Pasco's library has had 437 DVDs "assumed stolen," Cox said. The Kennewick branch has had 89 thefts and Keewaydin Park has lost about 20, he said.

He said theft at the Pasco branch was common until library officials installed security cameras in August to monitor public access to the DVD shelves.

Changes at the Kennewick branch library on Union Street are being made to reduce thefts too.

Cox said several DVDs disappeared from their cases on a reserve shelf next to the self checkout area about a week ago. Kennewick library staff have moved reserved DVDs from that shelf to library carts that are kept behind customer service counters at the information desk, Cox said.

Thefts at other branches of the library system have been minimal, he said.

Danielle Krol, library director, said theft is an unfortunate cost of doing business, but self checkout is still a better system than paying about $30,000 a year for a magnetic strip security system on every item in the libraries' collection.

The library system got rid of its magnetic strip security system three years ago at the Keewaydin, Kennewick and Pasco branches.

"People need to be honest. When someone takes something from the library, they are hurting the next customer," Krol said. "This is a big deal for all libraries."

Cox said the theft problem has prompted library staff to plan to install security cameras at the Kennewick branch in 2009.