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How To Rob The Library

How To Rob The Library published on

I appear to have thwarted a book-thief all by myself last night.

The girl walked out through the alarm-gate, set it off, and stared blankly at me when I waved her back over to the desk, like you do.

“- what, do I have to come over there?”

“Yes, please.”

“I know what it is, I’ve just got this DVD in there from the store in town, I’ve set the thing off like, five times today -”

“Okay, could you come over here and show me the DVD?”

We have this exact conversation with someone at least a couple times an hour, and in three years, there’s only been one actual thief caught on any of my shifts. Your suspicion-senses go dormant really fast.

So I just thought she was an idiot when she started yelling at me.

Still standing by the door, she said, “Look, I’ve had to do this like five times already today, do I really have to do it again?”

“Yes, I’m sorry, but -”

Look, I know it’s just the DVD, before I just held it over my head -”

“Okay, if you’ll just get it out and do that -”

Look -” (She started every sentence with “look -“) “- I’ve done this five times -”

The conversation continued like this for a while, with her standing by the door not moving, leaning away from the alarm-gate a little. The phrase “five times” figured into every protest. At about the one-minute mark, I got really annoyed.

“- look, do I really have to come over there and unpack my entire bag? I don’t even have any books in there, I’ve done this five times -”

“Yes,” I said in my best Disapproving Grandma voice, “because I wasn’t here for those five times, and I’m going to get in trouble if I let you through. Please bring your bag over here.”

There was another girl with her – Girl 2 said at this point, uncomfortably, “Well… I’ll be going…”

Girl 1 said, “No, wait for me – here, hold this for me -” and handed Girl 2 her umbrella, to keep her from fleeing. She beeped again on the way through.

Very belligerently, she dropped the backpack down on the desk, as though the fact that it was heavy was evidence of my foolishness. She pulled a DVD – not in its case – out of the front pocket. “Look, here’s the DVD -”

“Okay, if you want to go out holding that over your head and see – wait, isn’t there a case for that?” I said, my brain catching up with me. “Usually it’s the case that beeps -”

She looked offended, and then sighed dramatically – “Look, do I really have to dig through my whole bag looking for -”


It was only at this point that it had occurred to me she might not be just an idiot. She might be an idiot who was trying to steal shit.

She glared at me for a second, then unzipped her backpack. It became immediately obvious that the bulk of the bag consisted of a jacket wrapped around a very large hardcover book.

As she did not make any move to remove the book, I said, “Could you please hand me that -”

“Oh, this – do I have this?” She took it out and dropped it on the desk – it was brand-new hardcover DSM-IV. “- I must have just forgotten I had it, I must have just shoved everything into my bag – oh, is that a reference book -”

Girl 2, as if joking: “Oh, man, were you stealing books?”

“No! I just shoved everything into my bag – I must have forgotten -”

And they ran out. She didn’t beep again.

A second later, she came back in and demanded accusingly, sounding like she was going to cry, “I left my DVD there, didn’t I?” and pointed to the counter where I’d been standing a minute ago.

“No -”

She stormed back out.

Slightly shell-shocked, I scanned the book through to see if it was marked as missing. It wasn’t, so I put it down and waited for Supervisor 009 to come back.

I hadn’t thought to ask for the girl’s ID – presumably she would have said she didn’t have it – and my skills at noting Distinguishing Marks Or Scars are not hardcore, so I wasn’t able to give a very good description of her to Supervisor 009. I’m not sure whether to think she was actually trying to steal the book to sell – it’s about $70 new on Amazon – or whether she just wanted to take it with her to study, because it was a reference book and couldn’t be checked out. (That was clearly what the first person we caught trying to sneak stuff out on my shift was up to – those books were all worth about $2.)

009 said that the DSM-IV had, apparently, been missing all day, which the reference desk people were annoyed about, because, obviously, it’s nearly finals and every psych student in the school needs it. She also said that people who had worked earlier in the day had mentioned several similar incidents with a girl who sounded like the same one, though she wasn’t clear on whether anyone had searched the girl’s bag.

This really makes me wonder about those previous “five times,” and whether any other books disappeared yesterday; I guess I’ll find out when I go in tonight. The fact that she wrapped up the book in her coat could mean that she was trying to keep it from being damaged so it would sell for more, or just that she was trying to bulk up her bag to convince me it would take too long to search. Or it could have been a coincidence, but I don’t think so – it was raining, there was no reason for her to take her jacket off and put it in her bag.

The thing is, if she’d pulled that at around 12:15 PM, rather than 12:15 AM, it might have worked – the desk is always slammed in the early afternoon, but after midnight there’s rarely more than fifteen or sixteen people in the whole library. It’s not a good time to appeal to people’s sense of hassle.

There’s also the fact that she started acting victimized right away. This isn’t smart, criminals of the world! Throwing a tantrum before suspicion even falls on you is not an effective prophylactic! The library worker sitting there reading a book about a magical princess who makes friends with trees has no personal enmity for you! She barely even knows you exist, this time at night! Do not give her a reason to dislike you!

I would have searched her bag regardless – but if she hadn’t behaved the way she did, I would not now be assuming she was trying to steal the book, and thus the entire library staff would not now be on the alert for a blond girl trying to steal reference books.

If she has been stealing stuff to sell, she’s just destroyed her effectiveness through the end of the semester, at the very least. There was no suspicion on her before. And now that the supervisors know, they might decide to involve campus security or the police. None of this would have happened if she hadn’t decided to try and intimidate the lone night-staffer.

These are my suggestions for effectively robbing my workplace:

1) Do it in daylight – in the early afternoon on a weekday, preferably not on a rainy day. If you’re trying to rob a place that searches bags, you want to do it at a time when the employees might be too hassled to want to bother with you.

2) Fill up your bag with stuff you’ve checked out previously, plus a few personal books. (If you’re not a student here and have never checked anything out, you could get stuff from your local library; if that won’t do, then just have a lot of personal books.) Mix them up real good, and put some loose papers and a bottle of juice in there, so we don’t want to go digging for fear of papercuts and stickiness.

Say you “just bought” some of the “ones at the bottom” – we’ll automatically assume that’s what’s setting off the alarm. Make this a lot of little books, preferably, not a few big ones. (Though make sure what you’re stealing isn’t too much bigger or cleaner-looking than the rest, because that’s what we’ll take out first. Also make sure what you’re stealing isn’t the only hardcover in the bag. We’ll assume those are most likely to be ours.) We have to pass every book through two different types of scanners – make us feel like we’d be doing a lot of work for nothing.

3) Don’t try to play some sort of shell-game with the books if we do decide to scan them all. Some people will sigh and let it go they realize the clueless patron has started “organizing” the stacks of books they’ve been scanning – but some will just snap at you and start over again, more thoroughly this time. I don’t advise risking it, especially if you plan on pulling this more than once. Whether we let it pass or not, we’ll assume from then on that you’re an idiot and therefore need to have every one of your books carefully examined, to keep you from getting yourself in trouble by accident.

Especially don’t pull this if there’s a supervisor nearby – they get in trouble if something’s stolen on their shift, and they will come over and take charge of the situation. They don’t care how much of your time they waste, since you’re clearly either an idiot or a thief.

4) Smile and act a little confused – but not too confused, because then we assume you’re dumb enough to have put something in there you shouldn’t have.

5) You may act slightly annoyed. But do not get hostile at us, and do not accuse us of being paranoid. Searching bags is probably the part of the job that we hate the most – even those few of us who aren’t liberals with a terror of “turning the library into a police state” don’t like putting our hands inside people’s Red Bull-sticky backpacks.

Catching a thief, on the very rare occasions that it happens, is an incredibly tiring, stupid process, for which we don’t get paid extra – we don’t want you to be guilty, and in that sense we’re on your side. If you happen to be guilty, you can make use of this.

6) Don’t say, “Aw, man, this has never happened to me before!” It eventually happens to everyone who uses the library regularly – if it hasn’t happened to you, you’re not a regular, and therefore probably forgot to check out one of those books you’ve got, so we’re going to have to scan them all for you, if you could wait just a moment. (Also, the odds that the supervisor in charge is a teacher, or used to be one, are very good, and she will probably be happy to instruct you-the-library-tyro in all manner of useful statistics about how often the alarm goes off, while examining all your books.)

7) If you have time, establish a record of setting off the alarm – do it three or four times, always be cheerful about it, and develop a relationship with one or more of the supervisors if you can. Don’t start a record of putting books you haven’t checked out in your bag – we’re never going to let you go out beeping if we think you’re absent-minded enough to do that, no matter how “sweet” you are.

But if you have a history of setting off the alarms with personal books, or a laptop or something, the supervisors will be more willing to just wave you through when you set off the alarms at busy times. Try and make your second or third incident directly at a shift-change, while there are two supervisors behind the desk – that way they can joke with each other about your bad luck with books, establishing that you really do do this all the time.

(It’s the supervisors you need to get on your side, because they’re there in seven-hour-or-more blocks and there are only a few of them. The student workers, on the other hand, are legion, are in and out every couple of hours, and can only work a capped number of hours per week.)

It’s best of all, if you can manage it, to develop a reputation of “having a metal plate in your head” – being one of those people who just always seem to set off the alarms, even when they’re not carrying anything. If you can come up with a way of doing this, then do it a couple times with no bags or coat, again making sure the supervisors see it happen.

If you go this route, though, keep in mind that if you’re ever caught, it’s going to fucking break the supervisors’ hearts. And in doing so, incite the student workers to bloodlust, particularly if you make R cry. You will get hurt! It’s something to keep in mind.

8) Don’t damage the books trying to remove the magnetic strip. There’s probably more than one of them in there, you can’t get at some of them without destroying the books, and if you get caught there’ll be no doubt whatsoever what you were doing. It’s a bad idea.

9) Don’t try and stay in the library past closing, and then sneak out. For the love of god. Even if, somehow, neither we nor the custodians catch you, and even if no one suspects you personally, doing that always leaves evidence. We’re going to know that someone was in there, and we’re going to assume something was stolen or damaged. Security will be looking for you, and knowing that will affect your behavior. It’s always best to commit a crime in such a way that no one knows it’s actually taken place.

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