This blog represents most of the newspaper columns (appearing in various Colorado Community Newspapers and Yourhub.com) written by me, James LaRue, during the time in which I was the director of the Douglas County Libraries in Douglas County, Colorado. (Some columns are missing, due to my own filing errors.) This blog covers the time period from April 11, 1990 to January 12, 2012.

Unless I say so, the views expressed here are mine and mine alone. They may be quoted elsewhere, so long as you give attribution. The dates are (at least according my records) the dates of publication in one of the above print newspapers.

The blog archive (web view) is in chronological order. The display of entries, below, seems to be in reverse order, new to old.

All of the mistakes are of course my own responsibility.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

August 16, 2007 - Take Advantage of the Library - Up to a Point

First, there was the DVD gang of 2002. This family cruised through seven or eight public libraries along the front range, checking out library materials left and right. Then they hocked the whole batch to local pawnshops.

This time, it was mostly one guy who checked out about $11,000 of materials from us over the space of a week or so. (He also hit various other Denver area libraries, some of them even harder than us.)

Mainly, he was after DVDs, too. Instead of a pawnshop, he hawked them on the Internet.

In both cases, there are two important points to make.

The first is something you might not know about. It's a program called the Colorado Library Card, or CLC. If you're a patron in good standing at any public library in the state, you can get a card at any other public library. It's free.

Being a patron "in good standing" usually means just that you've identified yourself (usually through a picture ID, a local address, and a phone number) at your home library, AND you haven't done anything spectacularly wrong there.

Some libraries apply limits to an out-of-area patron. Maybe there's a limit on checkouts. Maybe you can only check out certain kinds of materials. But such restrictions are the exception.

The overwhelming majority of our patrons realize what a great deal they're getting, and they don't abuse it. And they bring everything back, usually on time.

The CLC program is very unusual in the United States. Most libraries don't trust each other's patrons. But in Colorado, we've learned that almost all the time, we can.

The second important point to make is pretty blunt. This latest individual who stole from us got caught. It didn't take very long, either. The same was true of the DVD gang.

We trust people, but we're not fools.

When it turned out that somebody was racking up a couple of hundred DVDs within a few days, our staff noticed it. We compared notes with other libraries, where we saw the same pattern. We consulted our security cameras, and have quite an excellent picture of the thief, as well as all of our computer records.

Now this person has been arrested, and is looking at some serious consequences. What was his crime? Stealing from the public, then trying to rope other people into the deed over the Internet.

That didn't work too well, either. The first person who bought one of our items -- with all our markings still on it -- immediately reported it to us.

I've been asked by a few media representatives if we're now going to crack down on everybody, just because one individual took advantage of us.

No. We're not. The Colorado Library Card has been running for over a decade now, and it works very well. We place a high value on individual access to information.

Let me emphasize this: while there are many problems in the world, people using the library too much really isn't one of them.

We also value patron privacy. But when borrowers turn into thieves, libraries talk to each other. That's because we have another value: good stewardship of taxpayer dollars.

Incidentally, we got back the items swiped by the DVD gang. We'll probably track down most of the current batch, too.

So here's the bottom line for would-be masterminds: Taking advantage of the Colorado Library Card is smart. Stealing from us isn't.

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