The Investigators

Apr 7, 2014 12:39 PM by Lupita Murillo and Michel Marizco

N4T Investigators: Pima County libraries losing inventory

Pima County spends about $750,000 on security for its 27 libraries in Tucson. But as the News 4 Tucson Investigators have found, that security is for the safety of staff and patrons. Meanwhile, hundreds of thousands of dollars in inventory is going missing from the libraries and nobody seems to know why.

County records show that about 34,826 items are missing from the library. That includes 18,317 DVDs, 13,218 books and 2,201 cds; all totaling $727,180.63

Where does that inventory go? The county library staff has some ideas but nobody seems to know for sure.

"One reason is we simply make a mistake when we're shelving or a customer could mis-shelve and if something is even this far away from where it's supposed to be, we can't find it so we mark it missing," said deputy director Karyn Prechtel.

She says another reason for losses is patrons who simply forget to turn in their books. But the library staff doesn't track who is stealing material from the libraries.

Over a two year period between 2012 and March 1, 2014, the library submitted 11,838 accounts to collection agencies.

"That is a lot of people," Prechtel said. "Unfortunately people sometimes check out materials and then move out of the county and then forget to return them. Sometimes people just don't return their items and we do look for those, we do go after them to try and get them back."

As for stealing, the library has no records of requesting prosecution for people accused of theft.
Inventory used to be marked with radio frequency identification devices, RFID chips. But those are expensive too. Those little stickers cost 50 cents each.

"My understanding is that a cost benefit analysis was done and it's quite expensive to keep maintaining a security system. Those RFID tags, they're costly, and the staff time involved in adhering them to the materials is costly," Prechtel said.

Last fiscal year, people visited the library 5.7 million times and library administrators say the number of lost items is comparable to other counties across the country.

But some patrons wonder at the lack of security for the inventory. Greg Evans is a critic of some of the libraries policies.

"Even after working in one and being a patron in many of them, i've often been surprised at how few security measures they have," Evans said.

He argues the library makes it easy for thieves to re-sell its books because much of the inventory isn't marked.

"There's nothing stamped on it here or on the inside cover or any place else that indicates it's the property of the pima county public library," he said, holding up one book.

Prechtel said library administrators check with used book and music stores in Tucson and so far, none have turned up.

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