Anti-theft devices for books?
November 17, 2005 12:49 AM   Subscribe

Can anyone suggest a low-tech anti-theft system for the reference books in a university computer lab?

We're in the midst of building a list of supplies for a student lab in our computer science building. We'd like to have a table or shelf with some reference books, but are worried about books disappearing.

Access to the lab is pretty controlled (only students in certain courses have fob access). But even so, books are just too easy to walk off with in a backpack.

I'm thinking something along the lines of those wooden newspaper "holders" you see in cafes (but slightly more permanent) might work. We're not looking for foolproof solutions, just something to discourage theft.

Any ideas?
posted by sanitycheck to Grab Bag (11 answers total)
Is there an employee in the lab at all times? Perhaps the reference desk can be situated close to that person's desk so that the proximity to watchful eyes will deter would-be burglars.

My University actually had an employee check student's bags as they left the periodicals section (just a quick glance into the main section of the student's bag). And this section was open to all students at a huge state school. It didn't seem to take much effort or slow anything down to much.
posted by mullacc at 1:40 AM on November 17, 2005

Umm... those sticker-thingies (I think they contain RFID tags) that libraries use? Or magnetic anti-theft things in the spines? But then you'd have to set up scanners at the doors, and it's always possible that said thief will walk off with it. Although, I've seen things that are sort of like a "Chain the book to the table" kind of technology, but that's not great if somebody needs the reference book multiple times, they have to keep going back to the table.

I would basically go with the "1 strike" method... Try to rely on students to enforce themselves... and if something goes missing, bye bye books!
posted by antifuse at 1:49 AM on November 17, 2005

Remember the old library cards? Have students sign out books and sign them back in. This requires a staffer.

Similarly: At my University, when we check out laptops at the library, they take our library card/student ID, which are $20 to replace and, of course, have our names and photo on them. Also requires a staffer.

Without a staffer: glue them to the table.
posted by ryrivard at 1:59 AM on November 17, 2005

Just brainstorming off your "newspaper holder" idea: what if you drilled the books close to the spine near the top. You could then attach one of those keychain dongles that all gas station bathroom keys seem to have. Just make sure the book can lie flat in spite of whatever ungainly thing you've attached to it (i.e. put it on a longish leash).
posted by zanni at 4:24 AM on November 17, 2005

If the books are sufficiently important for people to risk taking them they must contain some pretty vital information. I wonder if your money might be better spent paying for online versions?
posted by rongorongo at 6:12 AM on November 17, 2005

Making them physically not fit into a bookbag is going to require you doing something pretty drastic. I guess attaching each book to half of a broomstick would work. But doing that just means that you're challenging students to get one out of the lab (so they can go home and say to their roommate, "Ha ha! I stole the Java QuickStart guide -- and look at this huge stick!"). I recommend against it. I'd just deface the heck out of the covers and leave it at that. True, the books are expensive, but this will make them un-sellable. I guess that's some deterence.

I'd go with defaced covers (big-Sharpie-markered-up-ness) and with the signout model. Kid swipes his card to get a book. End of story. It's not that cheap ( ~ $200 for the card scanner if your university has student cards)... But it'll work.
posted by zpousman at 6:24 AM on November 17, 2005

Put a little webcam in the corner of the room. Make it a fun feature of the room (see our lab on the web!) and obvious enough that people will know that if a book goes missing there's a record of who walked out with it.
posted by mendel at 6:31 AM on November 17, 2005

You could drill a hole in the corner and run aircraft cable through it like they do with phone books at pay phones.
posted by Pollomacho at 7:09 AM on November 17, 2005

Write "UNIVERSITY COMPUTER LAB PROPERTY" along the edges of the book - not the spine, but the other 3 sides - along the page edges when the book is closed - with a fat sharpie. Marked up covers are easy to conceal with a book cover, but the page edges can't really be covered up if you want to read the book.
posted by chr1sb0y at 8:32 AM on November 17, 2005

If the books are sufficiently important for people to risk taking them they must contain some pretty vital information. I wonder if your money might be better spent paying for online versions?

This may be the best advice in the thread so far, in principle at least. There simply may not be an adequate low-tech, low-cost solution to this problem, you may just have to bite the bullet and do it up right. You shouldn't have to chain your books to anything—it's not going to work, and it's annoying for your students.

More importantly, perhaps, reference books, especially computer reference books, are vastly more usable in digital formats anyway. They're searchable, excerptable, and can be used by multiple students at once (if you've got ten students doing an assignment on C#, you need ten copies of Programming C#.

Safari and NetLibrary both provide computer manuals over the Web. It costs money, but it might be something your school should look into anyway, if they've got a CS department.
posted by Hildago at 8:40 AM on November 17, 2005

Unfortunately, the lab is not staffed 24 hours, only during tutorials (~8 to 12 hours a week). However, the students have access 24-7. Having a full time staffer to supervise the lab is not an option.

We have discussed investing in electronic versions of reference books (in fact, this is our backup plan), but sometimes it is just nice to have a paper copy to flip through while you are working. Also, we're not sure if we can find good electronic licenses for all the reference matter we want (it's a User Interface Design lab - most of the reference material would probably be for the various software prototyping tools we have available in the lab (Photoshop, Flash, Java, etc.).

I think the idea to just mark up the copies with magic marker is the best I've seen posted so far. If we combine that with the cheap webcam suggestion, it might be enough.
posted by sanitycheck at 11:34 AM on November 17, 2005

« Older My car, she is missing.   |   GPS Buying Help Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.