To Respond to Thefts, Georgia Library Puts Locks on CDs

Carolyn Smoot was leaving the Columbus Public Library last week. Her arms were full of DVDs.

"I had to stand in a line, a long one," said the Phenix City senior citizen.

It was a different experience for her.

Like others, Smoot has grown accustomed to bypassing clerks and checking out materials by herself. That system has been in use at the library since it opened Jan. 3 on Macon Road.

Books still may be checked out in that fashion. However, CDs and DVDs now must have a circulation desk clerk remove an anti-theft disc lock. On June 14, the Columbus Council approved a $28,393 change order in the $50.4 million library project for the security cases.

The locks keep people from opening a case, removing the disc and placing the item in a purse or pocket.

"People are basically honest," said Wanda Edwards, the library's director of community relations. "It's not that we've had a lot of theft, but many of our patrons have expressed concern about that possibility."

Overall, there is about a 20-percent rate of loss, according to Donna Osborne, deputy director of the Chattahoochee Valley Regional Library System. That includes CDs, DVDs and books. It's a rate not uncommon among libraries, she said.

"Most of our loss, really, is from people checking out materials and just not returning them," Osborne said.

The library uses a collection agency, Unique Management Services, that specializes in library recoveries.

When the old main library was open on Bradley Drive, it used an electronic detector at the door to catch those who might try to steal an item.

Discs there were kept in a binder and had to be requested at the desk.

"Most people who wanted to steal something," said Edwards, "knew how to remove the metallic strip that would set the alarm off."

"Most of the people who set the alarm off," added Osborne, "were honest folks who had just forgotten to get a book properly checked out. It kept honest people honest."

It was decided for that reason that it would not be worth the cost to put such a system in the new facility. Such a system wouldn't stop the theft of a CD taken out of a case.

"We want to be good stewards of the public's money," said Osborne. While not having figures on what the cost of a total system would've been, Osborne said that security for just one door and the gate that patrons would pass through would cost about $40,000. The total cost could be several times that. Tags would have to be purchased and placed on each library item.

"We do have security cameras," said Edwards, "as well as staff who walk among the stacks just observing. Security guards, too."

It's possible that a special desk will be made available where library patrons could go to have the disc locks removed, allowing them to use the self checkout system.

A few people have taken home DVDs and CDs without realizing the lock was on the case and had to return to the library.

The library features several thousand DVDs, including classics, children's films and instructional units. Thefts have changed the way that the library purchases DVDs.

"We have found that the ones that are most often taken are the new releases, the ones that are really hot," Osborne said. "Now, we're waiting until six months after the release date to buy them."

And Smoot will be there to get her share. She is not only a regular user of the library, getting many books as well as DVDs, but also volunteers in the Muscogee County Friends of Libraries Store.

"The new cases really aren't that much of a problem," Smoot said. "It's just a shame that they have to use them."