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Security Issues in Ohio Public Libraries

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Security Issues in Ohio Public Libraries
by Michael Lorenzen


(This study was published as "Security Issues of Ohio Public Libraries."
ERIC ED #416 907, February 1998. It is now becoming dated. I am putting it
online as there is a dearth of good information online about library security.)


INTRODUCTION:



Educational institutions are not always safe and secure places. Violence
and property crimes can and do occur. Public libraries are no exception and
they are subject to a wide variety of security concerns. These include the
theft and mutilation of library material as well as the harassment of library
staff and patrons by disturbed individuals. Libraries have responded in many
ways to these issues including installing security systems and writing library
security policies.


A survey was conducted in January 1997 to determine the security issues of
Ohio public libraries. The survey examined library perceptions of security
as well as determining if certain security problems had occurred in the last
12 months. The survey also asked if each library had an electronic security
system or written security policy. The survey was randomly distributed to
100 libraries of differing sizes around the state. Of these, 70 were returned
resulting in a 70% completion rate. The survey was also addressed to the
Head of Circulation at each library as the person in this position normally
deals with security problems when they occur.


PERCEPTIONS OF SECURITY:


Question number one asked, "Do you believe that security is a problem at
your library?" This question was asked to see what the perceptions of security
problems were in Ohio public libraries. While individual definitions of whether
a library is having problems with security will differ from person to person,
overall those individuals working in libraries with significant security
problems will probably know it. The results showed that a majority of libraries
(63%) did have problems with security. The other libraries (37%) did not
consider security to be a problem.


The second question asked, "Do you believe that the mutilation of periodicals
is a problem at your library?" Past research has shown that periodical mutilation
is widespread and can be damaging to a library collection (1). While one
study has shown that academic libraries are more vulnerable to periodical
mutilation than are public libraries, looking at an academic study on periodical
mutilation can show how widespread the problem can be (2). A study of academic
libraries in Ohio showed that 62.5% of university libraries in Ohio believed
that periodical mutilation was a problem (3). Individuals working in public
libraries in Ohio identified periodical mutilation as a problem in nearly
the same number. A considerable number of libraries (60%) did consider this
a problem showing that periodical mutilation is a big problem in Ohio for
both public and academic libraries.


Question number three asked, "Do you believe that the theft of library materials
is a problem at your library?" One recent study showed that 12% of the library
books in Ohio were missing while only 3% had become unusable due to deterioration
(4). This demonstrated that book theft was a bigger issue for libraries than
book preservation. Library employees can also steal from the library (5).
Individuals working in public libraries in Ohio tended to agree that book
theft was a problem. The majority (69%) believed that book theft was a problem
while a fewer number of libraries (31%) did not.


LIBRARY SECURITY INCIDENTS:


The next three questions in the survey asked about actual library security
statistics. Question four asked, "Was there an instance in the last 12 months
where a patron or staff member was arrested or expelled from the library
for periodical mutilation?" Question five asked, "Was there an instance in
the last 12 months where a patron or staff member was arrested or expelled
from the library for the theft of library materials?" Libraries reported
similar responses for both. The majority (86%) had not arrested or expelled
anyone from the library for periodical mutilation. The same number (86%)
had not arrested or expelled anyone from the library for the theft of library
materials.


However, question six revealed a more widespread problem. Question six asked,
"Was there an instance in the last 12 months where a patron or staff member
was arrested or expelled from the library for threatening or harassing library
staff or patrons?" Harassment of library staff and patrons had occurred at
the majority (71%) of libraries. This makes threats and harassment of individuals
the biggest security problem in the public libraries of Ohio.


ELECTRONIC SECURITY SYSTEMS:


The most widespread response to theft and periodical mutilation across the
nation has been the instillation of electronic security systems. One past
study showed that theft and periodical mutilation decrease significantly
after the instillation of an electronic security system (6). Further, another
study showed that those libraries that use electronic security systems to
stop and punish thieves are highly effective at protecting their collections
(7).


Question seven asked, "Does your library have an electronic security system?"
The result was surprising in that only 54% of public libraries in Ohio had
electronic security systems. As evidence indicates that electronic security
systems are common and work nationwide in libraries, the fact that 46% of
public libraries did not have electronic security systems was not expected.


SECURITY POLICIES:


Written security policies are important because they help staff identify
and deal with security problems. One past study found that library staff
are not educated as to what a security problems are and how to deal with
them (8). Another study found that library staff do not enforce library rules
(9). This appeared to be due to the fact that the staff did not know what
the rules were.


Question eight asked, "Does your library have a written security policy that
defines what a security problem is and how to deal with it?" A majority of
libraries did not have a written security policy (71%) and a small number
did (29%). The positive response to this question is only a little higher
than in the academic libraries of Ohio in which the majority of libraries
did not have a written security policy (10).


CONCLUSIONS AND RECOMMENDATIONS:


There is a sense around the public libraries of Ohio that security is a problem.
Well over half of the responding libraries in the survey believe that their
library has a problem with security and material theft. Almost the same number
believe that the mutilation of periodicals is a problem in their library.
This perception of security problems is only partially validated by other
questions in the survey. Only a small number of the libraries had arrested
or expelled a patron or staff member in the twelve months preceding the survey
for material theft or periodical mutilation. However, 71% of the libraries
had arrested or expelled a patron or staff member in the twelve months preceding
the survey for threatening or harassing library staff or patrons.



The harassment of library staff and patrons is the biggest security problem
currently facing public libraries in Ohio. However, libraries are not well
prepared to face this issue. Deciding when an individual has crossed the
line and is being disruptive enough to warn, expel, or have arrested is a
difficult decision in some instances. A well written security policy defines
what this problem is and how to deal with it. Yet, only 29% of libraries
have such a document. If library staff do not know how to define or deal
with a security problems due to a lack of a written policy and training,
how are library staff going to deal effectively with threatening and harassing
patrons?


Electronic security systems are widespread and effective in deterring and
catching thieves. However, only a little more than half (54%) of the public
libraries in Ohio actually have these systems. While many of the responding
libraries may be small and have little need for an electronic security system,
most libraries which do not currently have an electronic security system
would benefit from installing one.


Library security is a complex but important issue. The safety of library
staff, patrons, and the library collection are all at stake. The public libraries
of Ohio have some security problems and many libraries have responded by
writing security policies and installing electronic security systems.
Unfortunately, security problems will probably not disappear in the future
and libraries will need to continue to be aware of what is occurring in the
library and new ideas in dealing with different security problems.


Endnotes:


1. Gouke, M. N. and M. Murfin. 1980. Periodical mutilation: The insidious
disease. Library Journal 105(S 15): 1795-7.


2. Hendrick, C. and M. Murfin. 1974. Project library ripoff: A study of
periodical mutilation in a university library. College & Research Libraries
News 35(6):402-4.


3. Lorenzen, M. 1993. Security problems of Ohio academic libraries. ERIC
Document #ED367341.


4. O'Neill, E.T. and W. L. Boomgaarden. 1995. Book deterioration and loss:
Magnitude and characteristics in Ohio libraries. Library Resources and Technical
Services 38(4):394-408.


5. Bahr, A.H. 1989. The thief in our midst. Library & Archival Security
9(2/3):35-41.


6. Hendrick, C. and M. Murfin. 1974. Project library ripoff: A study of
periodical mutilation in a university library. College & Research Libraries
35(6):402-4.


7. Olsen, R. J. and L. J. Olster. 1985. Get tough on theft: Electronic theft
detection. Library & Archival Security 7(3/4):67-77.


8. Sheridan, L. W. 1980. People in libraries as security agents. Library
& Archival Security 3(1):57-61.



9. Mast, S. 1983. Ripping off and ripping out: Book theft and mutilation
from academic libraries. Library & Archival Security 5(4):31-51.


10. Lorenzen, M. 1993. Security problems of Ohio academic libraries. ERIC
Document #ED367341.




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