So, here’s a number that’s higher than it should be: 70,144, the number of books that were stolen from Brooklyn Public Libraries in 2012 (up significantly from 2011, which saw 61,543 such thefts). Thanks in no small part to rampant book theft, the materials in Brooklyn’s library system dropped from around 4.1 million in 2009 to 3.3 million in 2012. Like many developments with our public libraries in recent years, this isn’t what you’d call good!
Of course, to an extent, library books were almost meant to get held onto, to end up overdue, and the types of books that tend to disappear the most—”GED prep guides, nursing and other professional exam cliff notes”—make you sympathetic toward anyone with a genuine need for this type of material who might not be able to afford a copy of their own. (The propensity of borrowers to steal graphic novels is… significantly less sympathetic). But the reasons for the uptick in thefts—principally, staff and budget cuts that make it impossible to track down and keep tabs on these things—are a little deflating. “We don’t have the staff to watch as much,” said one librarian at the Brooklyn Heights branch.
I was talking to a friend recently who raised an interesting point, that it’s hard to imagine a concept like public libraries getting much traction if it were proposed in 2014’s political climate. God forbid we just give away things to people, like information, or, say, healthcare (and the economic freedom that comes with knowledge, and the assurance that changing jobs or starting a business won’t leave you bankrupt or dead). These are broad strokes, but the point’s a simple one: even in its under-funded state, the library’s your friend. And we don’t steal shit from our friends. (We also try not to steal shit from places under the protection of ghosts, were you looking for any further incentive here.)
Follow Virginia K. Smith on Twitter @vksmith.