Physical security measure to prevent book theft
March 28, 2014 7:15 AM   Subscribe

I'm going to be stocking a small bookcase with 5 to 10 books, and placing it in a room inside a college. I need a way to prevent the books from being stolen. Options seem surprisingly limited. Any help?

The room will not be staffed, so a beeper/gate system might be more trouble than help: there would be nobody to turn it off it were set off accidentally, and it would disturb nearby staff and students.

I'm thinking of rigging up some Kensington locks and attaching them through the bookcase and onto each book. But that would make the place feel like a prison, and be cumbersome. In case you're curious, this set-up is known as a "chained library" apparently.

Another option that emerged after extensive Googling would be to break up each book, laminate each page, and put the reassembled book into a large ring-binder type affair, which could be securely fastened to a desk. Again -- clunky. And probably expensive. (For those in the UK - something akin to the catalogues in Argos stores).

Beyond those, I'm wondering if there's some sort of secure book-rack that I've not yet found. I'm imagining something where the book spines are secured and hinged at one end, so the book folds down to be read, and can then be closed and folded back up out of the way...?

Hours of Googling has presented me with very little fruit. If anyone else has any suggestions or has better luck on the Search Engines, I would be very grateful.

Budget is most definitely an issue, so anything over UK£100 is not likely to be an option.

I guess I might entertain more creative alternative solutions, but my heart really is set on a physical bookcase and books. I suppose I could purchase e-books and print them or something - but that all gets very messy. Physical books are going to be part of the draw to entice people into the facility (along with wifi, plants, whiteboards, etc). Think of it as a tiny, very focused library.

Librarians -- rescue me with your wisdom. Surely there are more alternatives beside the "chained library" and "laminated ring-bound catalogue"?
posted by ajp to Grab Bag (27 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Glass-front bookcase with locking door.
posted by epanalepsis at 7:22 AM on March 28, 2014 [1 favorite]

Hang a poster of eyes on the wall and a sign that thanks people for leaving the books for others to enjoy.

(I can't imagine that laminating and locking each page of the books wouldn't cost more than buying replacement copies.)
posted by rtha at 7:29 AM on March 28, 2014 [1 favorite]

What kind of books? What kind of environment? Who will have access to them? Do they need to be able to be comfortably read by anyone in the room? I think there are different answers depending on whether the situation is "expensive science reference books in the grad student lounge near the chem lab" vs. "fun place to read novels in the freshman dorm." Do you need to physically secure the books, or will a psychological barrier (such as restricted or monitored room entry, sign-out sheets, visible signage) be enough?
posted by instamatic at 7:29 AM on March 28, 2014 [1 favorite]

Unless these are rare books, I posit that the purchase of such a security system would be more expensive than simply replacing the missing books periodically.
posted by Andrhia at 7:30 AM on March 28, 2014 [18 favorites]

How expensive are the books (both in terms of purchase and resale value)? Who will be using the room? Is the room open to the public? I actually had reasonable success with just leaving books in a small departmental library (a room in a college with a card-key lock) and trusting people to bring them back. Occasionally if one went missing I would remind the people who used the room that they needed to bring them back in.

If the books in question aren't that expensive, and access will be limited to a reasonably sized, reasonably cohesive user group, the honor system can work out pretty well. Books will go missing, but books can be replaced (if they can't be replaced, then they shouldn't be unattended).

Don't chain the books - no one will use them and people will destroy the books trying to get them free.
posted by mskyle at 7:32 AM on March 28, 2014

Does the room lock? Rather than a glass-fronted bookcase, I' put thr books in some sort of chest or armoire that locks. Not many people are going to pillage the room, looking for hidden treasure.
posted by Ideefixe at 7:33 AM on March 28, 2014

Could you put frontispieces with elaborate curses on them like the ancients did to prevent the theft of books and snail mail?

Steal not this book, my worthy friend
For fear the gallows will be your end;
Up the ladder, and down the rope,
There you'll hang until you choke;
Then I'll come along and say -
"Where's that book you stole away?"
posted by spunweb at 7:34 AM on March 28, 2014

Yes, more information about the context would be very helpful. Are these books you could put a sticker on? If so, a nice big "Property of [department x], if lost please return to [wherever]" slapped on the front cover might discourage some folks from walking off with the books. And would be less cumbersome than physically attaching the book to a shelf, which I'd think would be a huge drawback for people using them if they want to go off and sit somewhere comfortably.
posted by Stacey at 7:35 AM on March 28, 2014 [2 favorites]

I work in a library and we have more trouble with people stealing pages out of the books than stealing the whole book. So chaining them down won't help if they are reference books.
posted by interplanetjanet at 7:42 AM on March 28, 2014 [3 favorites]

Do you just want to display the books or do they need to be available to be read? An old-fashioned bookcase with locking glass doors on each shelf is probably your answer. If the books need to be available to students/staff, allow the key to be "checked out" in exchange for holding the user's ID card, and keep a record of who took the key when.
posted by trunk muffins at 7:53 AM on March 28, 2014

As interplanetjanet points out, it's the "this is the paragraph I need" theft that inspires the binders-full-of-pages approach. If someone wants just a piece of it, then no kind of security other than "there is a librarian watching you" is going to help.
posted by aimedwander at 7:57 AM on March 28, 2014

Oh, had a brainstorm, and had to come back and answer again. :)

What about the "too clunky to steal" approach? (following the model of the public restroom key attached to a baseball bat). Glue, screw or otherwise attach the back cover of the book onto a lap desk, or a board sized to work with whatever tables are in the room. Something significantly larger than a backpack.

Of course, that mainly works if the room is inside a building full of employees or responsible people (such that the borrower would assume someone would stop anyone carrying that around), or if the culture of the population (students in a dorm, eg) is such that the person who has smuggled a book-on-a-board back to his dorm room will get ridiculed not congratulated.

The streamlined version of that is to cover all the books in neon orange paper that says "Property of XX Library" in big bold print, such that it's not aesthetically appealing to steal.
posted by aimedwander at 8:08 AM on March 28, 2014 [3 favorites]

Scan the books into pdf.

Pdf viewer on an old non networked desktop machine hooked to a printer.

They can take the pages they want.

Consult with your librarian about the copyright issues.
posted by otherchaz at 8:13 AM on March 28, 2014 [3 favorites]

There are RFID systems designed to work with a smartphone or tablet, where you link your keys, your bag, your phone, your wallet, etc. to prevent you from accidentally losing anything; also gets used as an anti-theft or pickpocketing alert. Allows you to monitor the location of the items to go track them down, also allows you to make the object beep so that you can find it.

Your complaint about the alarm system was that without someone to monitor the room, the beeping alarm gate "OMG! this room is lacking a book!!!" would do nothing but annoy the neighbors. That's what stores and libraries do, they alarm the door. Since you have only 5-10 books, you put the alarm on the book. Someone takes the book out, and the book starts making racket "OMG! I am not in the library". So the only way to make it shut up is to put it back in the library. Ideally anyway. You'd have to go through a few RFID systems to determine what would work best in that context.
The personal 5-device systems run under $200 (example), but there are of course major asset-management systems that are much bigger.
posted by aimedwander at 8:27 AM on March 28, 2014 [1 favorite]

Budget is most definitely an issue, so anything over UK£100 is not likely to be an option....
Librarians -- rescue me with your wisdom.

With these restrictions, this can't really be done. You're better off locking the books up entirely and providing alternate access to them the way otherchaz suggests. Put another way, if the books are that important and need to not be removed, then anything you do to them to make them more secure (within your budget) will likely damage them. Libraries either limit access to incredibly rare/fragile materials or they deal with a bit of loss from time to time. Here are things libraries have tried

- the clunky approach, often used with restroom keys, attach the book to something giant and unwieldy that doesn't limit reading but will limit moving it around or absconding with it
- the "ruin it" approach. Do something to it that makes it lack value - this is the prison library approach to porn magazines. Stamp "property of the prison" over all naked images
- the "look but don't touch" - scan and provide digital access
- the "I don't trust you" approach - only provide access by appointment with humans

You don't want the place to feel like a prison but you want it to, effectively, be a book prison. This is doable, but it's complicated and probably not foer the budget you have. Can you give us more information about why you need a super unique solution here?
posted by jessamyn at 8:29 AM on March 28, 2014 [1 favorite]

Fake security camera (e.g. old webcam) with signs stating the room is under 24 hour surveillance. Put eyes on the signs as per rtha's link.

Of course this probably only works until someone steals a book and doesn't get caught.
posted by EndsOfInvention at 9:55 AM on March 28, 2014

Response by poster: Goodness, lots of rapid responses :) Here's more info:

Approx 10 specialist but not expensive books -- subject matter: business, legal issues, tax, etc. Each book worth approx £20. So approx £200 in total value.

These will be purchased with a one-time loan. I'll be starting a small business, and have secured a very small amount of funding. Hence constantly replacing items that get lost or stolen isn't an option I'd enjoy.

Yes, the electronic station option is one I'd considered, and it is an option. However I am hoping to create a library/coffee-shop ambiance. I think that physical books will help here, and will draw people in. Just like a library or coffee-shop I need to attract people into the room. (I don't want to get bogged down in the business model here -- I'm pondering that elsewhere in detail.)

People using the facility will be college students of all ages, from 19 to 50+.

Anyone can find this content online, and frankly people could download the material if they were determined to get it. However, I think this facility would have value as a reference library, and as a social hub.

I will not be able to easily monitor the room, although I am considering installing an IP webcam in there.

The "too clunky to steal" approach is definitely a possibility. I had considered gluing the books to a desk, just as suggested here.

As for the situation being "super unique" -- I didn't think it would be, but it does appear to be so. "Let's create a small reference library -- hmm, how do I stop people stealing the books if the room is not staffed, and my budget is tiny?"

Stickering and stamping the books -- good points. I particularly like the hi-vis neon book cover idea too, it might deter the casual thief for fear of being easily spotted.

The "alarm on the book, not on the door" is a nice idea too. It wouldn't stop a determined thief, but might deter casual pilferers.

I like to think an elegant solution exists, but it might not. I was hoping that I was just unaware of a standard device, and my Google-fu was failing. Perhaps not! However plenty of the suggestions above have given me some inspiration. Many thanks.

Any more for any more?
posted by ajp at 10:13 AM on March 28, 2014

Best answer: How about attaching a metal yardstick, so that removing the stick would obviously result in the book being destroyed. With a hole on the end of the stick you could hang the books from a "tree".
posted by Sophont at 10:39 AM on March 28, 2014

Best answer: Sophont suggests kind of the same idea I was going to: Newspaper hangers. If you could lock these onto the books, they'd be too bulky to walk off with comfortably.
posted by adamrice at 11:17 AM on March 28, 2014

How about a round table with the back covers of the books glued evenly around the table so people can pull up a chair in front of the one they need. I think you could make it look pretty cool, and it definitely would be a social hub that way.
posted by Vaike at 12:04 PM on March 28, 2014

Also just to speak to the specific issue you are having. The way small ad hoc libraries deal with this is usually just to trust that people will not wander off with stuff or, if they do, the stuff can be tracked down and returned. Usually there is an honor system checkout thing, so there is a way that if a book is legitimately removed, you can find where it is (a sleeve the book is taken out from that has the borrower's information on it or something).

I totally understand you don't want to be replacing this stuff all the time, but might it be possible to assess the actual risk of theft/removal for a short trial period to see if extreme measures are warranted. Because if you can replace 50% of the collection with your anti-stealing fund, you might just want to keep that in the "book replacement fund" and call it a wash. I understand and appreciate that you want to keep these books so that everyone can access them. However, putting restrictions on the methods of access (please god do not glue a book to a table) is also limiting access to them and getting in the way of your plan. Making sure the books remain usable and accessible while also balancing the risk of theft in an appropriate matter is the way a library would approach this. Most of our public libraries here have absolutely no theft protection built into them except for the book having library stamps on it and the fact that it's an asshole move to steal from the library. Unless the stuff you have is more valuable/stealable for some reason, I think you should make sure you're really drawing the line in the proper place.

So maybe having a way that you can promote the downloadable/online aspect of the content so that people who want to have the content can get it and people appreciate and honor that the books in the room are for sharing and not for theiving.
posted by jessamyn at 12:28 PM on March 28, 2014 [4 favorites]

Also a librarian here. Some of these suggestions are creating barriers to access the books and (counter-intuitively) making them seem worth stealing. I would put the books on the shelf, invite people to use them, and have a replacement budget.
posted by saucysault at 1:12 PM on March 28, 2014 [1 favorite]

ajp: "I'm imagining something where the book spines are secured and hinged at one end, so the book folds down to be read, and can then be closed and folded back up out of the way...?"

It looks like you already have a solution for your overall problem, but regarding this specific proposed setup, what came to my mind was how phone books used to be affixed in certain phone booths. I don't know if this kind of setup was common in the UK, so here's a picture of what I was thinking of. Here's another showing how it looked with multiple phone books.
posted by mhum at 2:37 PM on March 28, 2014

Response by poster: It seems that the experienced librarians here accept theft and suggest a budget for replacing items is the standard approach. Unfortunately my budget really will be miniscule, so accepting theft is a last ditch approach. I do appreciate the comments about the intrinsic value of interest books (not gluing them to tables) and creating barriers to their use. All taken on board, many thanks.

Regarding the phone book setup, it's not seen in the UK at all, as far as I'm aware, although I have seen it elsewhere. Does anyone know what this contraption is called? I'd like to explore this option, although my personal preference thus far is the newspaper hangers.
posted by ajp at 4:27 PM on March 28, 2014

The specialty holders for phone books are essentially a hanging hinge that when flipped up, allows the phonebook with it's custom plastic cover to be opened up in a manner that is easy to read while in a booth. Bonus is that when it falls back down the cover protects the paper from liquids and spills.

On the newspaper stand concept, why not go DIY? There are a variety of ways you could use cheap plastic hangers to hange the books from the center of their spines and perhaps glue or melt another straight section from another hanger behind the spine to at least make the book awkward to carry about. (bright colors, something else to match the themes of the area?)

You could also use standard and shelf brackets to attach the brackets (comically oversized?) to the books and then arrange the standards to hold them in an eye catching or whimsical way?
posted by emjay at 10:25 AM on March 29, 2014

ajp: "Does anyone know what this contraption is called?"

Unfortunately, I haven't a clue what this thing is called. The ones I've seen are more or less functionally the same idea as a newspaper hanger -- except, instead of a being attached to a rack or left loose, the metal rods holding the book/newspaper are sealed inside of a plastic cover which is in turn attached to the hinge.
posted by mhum at 8:36 PM on March 31, 2014

I was just at a museum, and thought of you.
The special exhibit area included a sofa and coffee table with a stack of art books (for sale in the gift store, of course). Each book had a large heavy-plastic bookmark (say, 4" x 12-15") glued to the inside back cover such that there was a 4x4" tab sticking out the top of the book, with text saying "Property of XYZ Museum, Special Exhibits ABC, please return to [address]".
posted by aimedwander at 10:50 AM on April 13, 2014

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