Sunday, December 28, 2008

Circulation's role in security

The circulation staff of a library is often responsible for much of the security of the library building and its collection. This is so for a number of reasons:
1. The circulation area is often located near entrance and exit doors, and circulation staff are likely to be the first to become aware of security problems.
2. Circulation staff are often more familiar with the building than other library personnel.
3. Circulation departments are staffed all the hours the library is open.

Responsibility for library security generally falls into two categories: (1) notifying the proper authorities about crimes or transgressions, or facility problems; and (2) assuming responsibility for the security of the building and its contents, especially at opening and closing times.

Circulation staff usually have the responsibility of notifying appropriate authorities in the event of thefts or other problems, including inappropriate behaviour by customers. The staff may also be required to contact medical personnel in the event of emergencies. In cases such as these, employees at school or academic libraries will probably inform campus authorities, while public library workers contact city or county authorities. All libraries should have written procedures for dealing with security and medical emergencies and all staff should be thoroughly familiar with them.

Responsibility for building security includes opening the library in the morning and preparing it for use (turning on lights, the catalog terminals, the copy machines, and the microcomputer workstations; opening doors; unlocking the cash box). Security also involves making sure the building is empty of people at closing time, turning the equipment off, and locking all doors. This is an extremely important operation and evening personnel must be well versed in closing procedures to ensure that uninvited guests do not remain and that the building is secure against unauthorized entry. Both opening and closing procedures should be in writing and personnel performing these functions should be thoroughly trained in the routines.

To perform these security chores and to enable staff to provide building access to authorized workers when necessary, the circulation department is often assigned a full set of building keys. These keys are carefully controlled by the circulation staff and are stored in a secure accessible only to authorized personnel.

Theft detection systems

Electronic theft detection systems have been available since the mid-1960s. Today they are in general use in all types of libraries. The purpose of these systems is to reduce theft and other types of unauthorized removal of library materials, such as the customer or library director who innocently forgets to check out material. These systems, which operate on the principles of magnetism, electromagnetism, or radio frequency, are generally effective, and they are the single best deterrent to library material loss. To determine whether a library has a theft problem, one can use inventorying and sampling techniques. A number of studies have shown that book loss is a common problem. These studies have also shown that the presence of the equipment alone will reduce theft by 50 percent, and a fully protected library may see a 70 to 90 percent reduction in theft. (Thomas A. Witt, "The Use of Electronic Book Theft Detection Systems in Libraries," Journal of Interlibrary Loan, Document Delivery & Information Supply 6, no. 4 (1996): 49.) Theft detection systems are available from several commercial vendors.

The systems operate by placing a sensitized element, called a trigger or target, in each protected library item. When staff charge materials out they desensitize the target with a special piece of equipment or pass the item around the detection system and the borrower exits through the detection system normally. When a customer does not properly charge out material, a sensing unit is stalled near the exit doors detects the sensitized target. An alarm is sounded (or light flashes) and, if there is a turnstile gate, it may lock automatically. The sensing unit can detect sensitized targets even in concealed material.

Libraries with a theft detection system will have a policy outlining the procedures to follow when the system is activated. Because the person detained is in a sensitive situation and because of possible legal consequences, circulation staff must be careful about accusing someone of theft and must strictly follow library policy and routine.

Several problems may result from the presence of a theft detection system. In large collections, there are often not enough human or financial resources to target all materials, so it must be done selectively. Generally, this means the more expensive, hard to replace, or most used titles. Even books that are targeted may not always activate the system, and targets may be removed from items. There are some materials that should not be placed in or very near the sensitizing unit. Computer disks may lose data if they are near a sensitizing or desentizing device when it is operating. To prevent these accidents, staff must be aware of the dangers inherent in the system used by the library. Some libraries report that mutilation of materials increases after the theft detection is installed. Mutilation is impossible to prevent completely, but staff can increase their vigilance if they are alert to the problem.

Libraries with theft detection systems must not fall into a false sense of security. The system is meant to stop the occasional honest user and the forgetful borrower. The person determined to steal or the professional thief can find a way to defeat most security precautions.

Evans, G. Edward; Amodeo, Anthony J.; and Carter, Thomas L. Introduction to Library Public Services. 6th ed. Greenwood Village, Colorado : Libraries Unlimited, 1999.

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