Don't steal this book.
April 19, 2010 9:26 AM   Subscribe

One of my employees has been accused of theft. Please help me investigate.

I'm a supervisor at a university library. We have a reserve collection of textbooks for each class, which are available for two-hour checkout. These are not meant for students to use instead of buying their own books, but are for when a student has left a book at home or in the car or whatever. We only have a couple texts for each class.

One title in particular, a supplement to a textbook, is gone. We had two copies. Neither are checked out in the system. Now a student has come to tell me that he saw one of our student circulation workers with that supplement (clearly marked as a library book) in class.

Our student workers do have the ability to take books and desensitize them without checking them out, and this particular worker has done that in the past. He was warned, and as far as I knew, had stopped doing that. There have also been complaints about him on other issues, and I know that he has been officially reprimanded by university administration, although I don't know the details.

If the worker did indeed steal, or perma-borrow, this book, it's a major honor code violation. He could be expelled. I'm sure he knows this. How do I find out if this accusation is true? If I ask him, I'm sure he'll deny it. Do I ask to search his bag? Do I give him an opportunity to return the book, no questions asked, as long as it's back on the shelf tonight? How far should I pursue this?
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (18 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Do I ask to search his bag?

You're not a cop. No.

Do I give him an opportunity to return the book, no questions asked, as long as it's back on the shelf tonight?

If you frame it that way, he may not return the book because it would be an admission of guilt. If you have a meeting of all the students employees, however, and publically announce this oppurtunity to "whomever took the book", he will have cover and will be much more likely to return the book.

How far should I pursue this?

What do you want? Do you want the student expelled? Go to campus police. Do you just want the book back- do the above. This incident would probably scare him enough from doing again. Probably.
posted by spaltavian at 9:36 AM on April 19, 2010 [2 favorites]

You should definitely contact campus security/legal for guidance with this instead of taking any kind of "legal" action yourself as there are a bundle of things you can/can't do re employee law.
posted by MsKim at 9:39 AM on April 19, 2010 [5 favorites]

Certainly check with the school's lawyers, to make sure you don't make any mistakes. However, if I were you (given past warnings) I'd do this:

1: from the student who told you this, find out which class/teacher is involved;
2: ask that teacher to discreetly take a look to see if the book is indeed the one suspected;
3: if that teacher validates the suspicion, you have a teacher as a witness, rather than another student.

Assuming the lawyers have not told you otherwise, at that point confront the student in a sit-down meeting; let them know you're aware they have been using the book against the rules, that it is an honor code violation, and you're deciding what to do about it -- and at the very least, he'd better return the book by [such and such day/time] with a written apology. Choosing to be lenient after he does this is presumably a better solution than being lenient by a blind "no questions asked" return policy -- let him be embarrassed a bit by his own behavior.

If he insists it is a lie, you have a teacher's witness that presumably you trust; you can safely pursue whatever corrective matters you deem appropriate. If he begs not to be expelled, you can tell him that as far as you're concerned expulsion is the only answer until he returns the book with a written apology, after which you may elect to be more lenient. If he accuses you of hating on him, you and the teacher have presumably talked to the lawyers already, so you won't have to worry about that.
posted by davejay at 9:47 AM on April 19, 2010 [5 favorites]

Do I give him an opportunity to return the book, no questions asked, as long as it's back on the shelf tonight?

The worker has desensitized books to check them out before and is doing it again, this time with a textbook that prevents other students from using it? I really doubt they're going to stop if they're offered a "get out of jail free" card.

I think campus security is the next step as they're in a better legal position than you are.
posted by Hiker at 9:48 AM on April 19, 2010 [1 favorite]

I think you should just ask. "Hey Bob, someone mentioned you had the supplement, do you still need it?"

Innocent until proven otherwise, if I were in their shoes, I'd appreciate a simple question, as perhaps they forgot about returning it, or perhaps the student was mistaken and they are entirely innocent.
Escalating it up to "I think you're a thief and you're going to probably get expelled, let me search your property" seems a little over dramatic for a missing book, especially when you're not sure.

So, give them the opportunity to just put it back without the fuss and everyone wins. If they did forget about it, they're hardly going to return it when doing so will cause them to be expelled.
posted by Static Vagabond at 9:54 AM on April 19, 2010 [1 favorite]

Just to throw some more innocent until proven otherwise sticks in the fire— perhaps the book spotted was the remaining book which the student circulation worker borrowed and returned.
posted by Static Vagabond at 10:02 AM on April 19, 2010

You mention it's an honor code violation. My college had/has an honor court. Anything that violates the honor code is supposed to be referred to the honor court. This (or whatever is similar in your situation) is what should be done. The student who allegedly saw this should refer it. However, you have been informed of it and you should do it. Let them do their job.

As a staff person you may be held to the honor code, too.
posted by FergieBelle at 10:07 AM on April 19, 2010

You do not yet have proof that he took this book. Hell, it could have been the student that reported him that stole the book and is pinning the blame on someone else. I like the idea mentioned above of asking the teacher whether or not he or she could take a look at the book, surreptitiously, as well as consulting the legal department of your school.

But personally, if this was a good worker and I was more concerned about getting the book back than getting him in trouble, I would say something like "have you seen textbook X's supplement? Both copies are missing, and I don't want to order a new one if some are just lying around somewhere. Could you check for me?".

Those two copies could hypothetically be discarded somewhere in the library. So, you now have twice the odds of getting one back.
posted by amicamentis at 10:07 AM on April 19, 2010 [1 favorite]

Oh wait, I think I misunderstood the problem. You have two copies of the textbook supplement, and only one is now in the library? Or both copies are missing? I thought you meant both copies, but I think you mean only one is missing.

Is there a way to check the library lending records of both books? This may not be allowed in your library, but as Static Vagabond says, he could have borrowed the other copy for the allowable two hours and already returned it. Theft is a serious accusation, and all options should be explored before accusing a student worker.
posted by amicamentis at 10:10 AM on April 19, 2010

He was warned

There have also been complaints about him on other issues

he has been officially reprimanded by university administration

This person has been given multiple opportunities to change his behavior as a university employee in order to maintain his student and employee status. If indeed he has stolen this book, you should not protect him from the consequences. Turn the matter over to campus security or whatever the appropriate authority would be.

Even if you discover that he merely borrowed the book and subsequently returns/returned it, this employee should be fired: he's already been explicitly warned not to borrow library books without legitimately checking them out; he's already received warnings and reprimands. Regardless of whether or not this is an honor code violation, "borrowing" this book would be a violation of your explicit warning to your employee. You set a dangerous precedent if your student employees know for certain that your "warnings" are empty.
posted by Meg_Murry at 10:18 AM on April 19, 2010 [7 favorites]

Honor codes are notorious for lacking teeth. Book theft is evil. Gather together as much evidence as possible and fire the kid from working in the library - it sounds like he's been a poor employee in the past; go to the dean who is responsible for the honor stuff and ask what you should do.

Suggest to your informant that s/he should call security if s/he sees the thief with the book again.
posted by sciencegeek at 10:26 AM on April 19, 2010

Ask the student making the accusation to refer it to Honor Council. Depending on the Honor Code, that student may be bound by an obligation to turn it in anyway.

Honor Codes vary widely in strength and processes. From the question, I'm going to guess that you're at a school with a relatively strong code. Honor Council is tasked with investigating charge and protecting the student. You don't need to prove it and it's not your job anyway. Honor needs to investigate it.
posted by 26.2 at 10:39 AM on April 19, 2010

Have the student who informed you of this honor code violation charge him with the honor code violation. The honor committee will investigate.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 10:44 AM on April 19, 2010

Nthing that you should check with the school's adminstration regarding the proper legal course of action. I am sure that as a large organization, it has specific policies and protocols regarding employee theft, and is advised by its attorneys on these issues. Check with them.
posted by HabeasCorpus at 11:00 AM on April 19, 2010

Wait.... all you have is a missing book, an employee with a previous record (and means to do the crime) and some random student saying he saw said guy with the book in class? Take it up with campus police/security/honor council or whoever you would report any other stolen library property too. Without the witness, you have nothing, and the witness is completely unreliable in your hands; you have no proof he's reliable, telling the truth, has a grudge going, etc etc. Report the text missing, and tell the people who deal with this as part of the jobs everything you know, and let the system work.
posted by cgg at 11:04 AM on April 19, 2010

First of all, what's your library policy on this? Your library should (or if it doesn't, should rapidly implement) a policy on staff use of reserve books. Your library should absolutely have a policy on theft of library books that mentions staff and students and student workers.

You don't want to go bumbling into a legally grey area and end up getting a nastygram from library or university HR about this; that's what policy is supposed to help prevent. At the very least, what does your supervisor have to say about this? A lot of times we library people like to reinvent the wheel when there's plenty of institutional knowledge in place to avoid that entirely (I'm sure this isn't the first time this issue has come up; I've worked at a university law library and we certainly had it come up at least once during the year I worked there).

Second of all, this student does not sound like a stellar worker to me and I think it might be time to think about letting them go whether or not they actually perma-borrowed the book in question (or, more gracefully, think about winding down their employment in June or something). It does disturb me, however, that this student is your direct report (s/he is a direct report, right? otherwise, you need to be mentioning this incident to whoever is the dr's supervisor) and you don't know the exact details of previous disciplinary action, which kind of hamstrings you now.

Thirdly, when issues like this come up, you sometimes get better answers not from random students in class with this person, but from other student workers. So, after you clear it with the LHR, your supervisor, and every appropriate higher up (academic libraries! don't you love the bureaucracy) and hold that reminder of policy meeting with the student workers that should probably be held either way, encourage them to feel free to come to you. That way, whether this student turns themselves in or another student worker rats them out, you start the path to getting your book back.

Finally, you need to talk to HR, your supervisor, or the appropriate folks in your library because you cannot go forth into complicated areas of employment without some backup and guidance. If you feel you cannot do so or it's not appropriate to do so, I hope that instead you follow up with the student who originally complained and ask them to report it to the Honor Code Council (as suggested by others above).
posted by librarylis at 1:50 PM on April 19, 2010 [1 favorite]

Yeah, send it to the people who are meant to figure these things out.

If you felt like it, you could show up in the class where the book was seen and see if you can see it as well. At that point, you aren't depending on the word of someone else, you saw it yourself.
posted by gjc at 3:30 PM on April 19, 2010

cgg: "you have no proof he's reliable, telling the truth, has a grudge going, etc etc. "

Agreed. I went to a small high school and 4 other students besides myself went to my college and I'm a first-hand witness that high school crap and drama can carry over to college. I would be really really sure he has that book before I went making any accusations.
posted by IndigoRain at 5:39 PM on April 19, 2010 [1 favorite]

« Older When is a popup not a popup?   |   Help me find a career? Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.