April 11, 2012
Library Service for watching personal belongings?
There was recently a great question asked of the ULS-L list about providing a library service for watching personal belongings.
This is part of the question posed by a librarian at the University of Texas:
"For the last year or so, we’ve been brainstorming potential ways to provide students with a safe and reliable service that would allow them to leave their personal belongings behind while they ran to the restroom or grabbed a coffee. We have a 6-floor main library and seats with access to power outlets are highly treasured, so students studying alone never want to deal with giving up their spot for a quick errand. The building is one of the easiest targets for thieves on campus and laptops left behind for just a moments are easily stolen. "
This is my response - thought it would be good to share via my blog as well.
There is a really good discussion about this on the list and I think it is an important consideration for libraries. Shortly after this was posted to the list, we received a message from University security that addressed this issue:
Thefts of unattended belongings on the University of Michigan campus significantly have increased in the first three months of 2012 compared with 2011. U-M Police remind students, faculty and staff to secure their valuables at all times.
From January 1 to March 31, 2012, the U-M Department of Public Safety received 190 reports of larcenies, a 32% increase from 144 reported in the same time period in 2011. Most larcenies are thefts of unattended belongings. Of the 190 larcenies this year, 38 laptops and 27 cell phones were reported stolen.
Be sure to reduce the opportunities for thefts by not leaving laptops, wallets, cell phones, purses, backbacks and bookbags unattended even for a couple of minutes. It takes less than a minute for a thief to take your belongings.
The issue is that many students are both very comfortable in a library and very distracted – which leads to leaving material around. This leads to thefts.
At Kresge Library (an independent library at the University of Michigan) we rolled out a similar coat/bag check program in the Winter of 2011. The funny thing is that we expected (like with many services that we rolled out) that it would take a while for people to learn about it and that we could handle the added work load. Much to our surprise, there was immediate interest in the service and we found that we did not have the capacity to handle all the demand. The problem that was happening (from my POV) is that students were handing material to the Reference Librarians (we share a large desk with the circulation operations). It became a real problem when we were working with students to have others drop their bags off and interrupt our reference meeting. At the end, we decided that while this was a good service, we just did not have the staff to manage the operations. As I tend to roll out programs, we see everything as a pilot, moving flexibly to make sure that it is indeed something that is needed and we could support it. Here is a case where we did not feel we could support it properly and pulled the plug.
In regards to the liability issue (what if something is lost or stolen while under our care), we did not have an issue, though we realized the possibility of this happening. We did not run the service long enough to run into any problems. It is possible that we were lucky or maybe this issues might not have come to pass. But the reality is out there and certainly one that we needed to be aware about.
This is what I wrote about it in the 2011 Kresge Library Annual Report:
Another program proved to be too great an imposition on Kresge staff and was not continued. Kresge Staff had noticed that during interview season, many students left their backpacks and jackets unattended while interviewing in the suites at Kresge
Library. The result is that some students have had items stolen when they left them unattended. In an effort to come up with a way to help prevent theft, we proposed a coat check behind the circulation desk for students during their interview. While many
programs take months or years to develop a following, this took off right from the start. The problem was that it became a major distraction at the circulation and reference desks that led to interruptions to our key library services. For example, it was very
difficult to manage a reference interview at the desk when someone is dropping off boots prior to an interview. So with this service, we determined that despite a successful pilot program, we did not have the space or the staff to adequately support this role. The
program has not been brought back for the 2011-2012 academic year.
In closing, I believe a great deal in providing patron-driven services (something I am working on) in a welcoming, hospitable and safe environment. If there is something that we can do to ensure that students are safe and their belongings are as well, then it is something to consider. With this particular service, we discovered the need greater than our abilities.
Posted by cseeman at April 11, 2012 12:46 PM