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Why Shoplifting Is Bad, Volume II

, , , , | Right | September 8, 2021

Working the reference desk in the days before the Internet was challenging but still fun and often exciting. It was like solving a mystery AND getting the information the patron needed. My library at the time was also well known for having materials not available anywhere else in the state.

We were also the first place teens came when they were caught committing petty crimes (mostly shoplifting) and were usually carrying a piece of paper from their assigned counselor.

On this particular day, my coworker and I are run off our feet by an influx of patrons. When someone requests an item, one of us or one of our pages will go get the item(s) and place it on a table designated for pick up.

Our library board considers any and all security as unnecessary and silly, which is why we have one guard who sleeps all day and absolutely NO alarms, tattle tapes, or anything else that might prevent items from being stolen.

A woman doing historical research comes in to get access to two very old tomes not available anywhere else. Because of their age and their fragility, they are not something that can be checked out. While the page goes for those items, I find myself helping a girl who is maybe fifteen or so. If you were to look up the word “surly” in a picture dictionary, her photo would be right next to it.

Girl: “I need to know what I think about why shoplifting is bad.”

She shoves a piece of paper at me and waits. According to the paper, she was caught shoplifting and, in addition to some community service, she has to write an essay about why shoplifting is a bad thing. The paper does, in fact, read, “Tell us exactly why YOU think shoplifting is a bad thing to do.”

Girl: “You need to find me a book that tells me what I think.”

Well, this reference interview isn’t going to be fun. Fortunately, it isn’t as if I have to narrow down her choices. The paper tells us exactly what she needs.

Me: “Actually, when you read further down, they ask you to read five articles about shoplifting and what it does to the economy and the community. I can get you the articles, but you have to read them and form your own conclusions.”

Girl: “Naw. I want a book that tells me what I think.”

Me: “We don’t have any books that tell you exactly what you think. But I will be happy to find you articles.”

Girl: *Huffs* “All right, but I would rather have a book that tells me what I think.”

Apparently, we have books for every single person in town titled “What [Person] Thinks”.

I show her the one computer-type thing we do have at the time: a search engine where you type in the subject and the search engine relays a number of magazine articles on the topic. We choose five articles and I call a page to get the magazines.

Me: “We’ll put the magazines here on the table with your name on them. You can make copies of the articles if you don’t want to read them right here and take notes.”

The girl grunts and promptly disappears.

Remember the lady who needed the two tomes? Well, she has wandered off to look at fiction and movies, so her items are put on the pick-up table with her name on them.

Twenty minutes later, I see that the two books are gone. Our researcher must be somewhere taking notes. There is also still a five-magazine stack on the table for the girl. Just at that moment, the researcher appears.

Researcher: “Sorry. I got carried away look around at the art upstairs.”

I choke because I know the books are gone.

Me: “Uh, you didn’t take the books to study?”

Researcher: “No. I went upstairs to see the art exhibit and there was an interesting program going on so I stayed for that.”

Me: “Oh, dear.”

I flag down the page who got the magazines.

Me: “Did you see [Girl]?”

Page: “Oh, sure. She took those two old books you got for her and left.”

I have the page check the building and, sure enough, our young shoplifter had kind of struck again. She left with the books, not trying to check them out. She just took them.

I have to explain this to the researcher who, fortunately, is understanding while disappointed she could not use the items. She left us her name in case the items returned.

It is maybe a month later when my colleague reports [Girl]’s return. She comes in, throws the two old books on the desk, and snarls:

Girl: “I asked her for books about what I think about shoplifting and she gave me this junk.”

Colleague: “Uh…”

My colleague points to the name of the researcher, still attached to the front cover of the top book.

Colleague: “Is your name [Researcher]?”

Girl: “No, it isn’t. But she sent someone into the back and I saw them put these out so I thought it was for me.”

The books were already on the table when she arrived, so we cannot imagine why she thought they were for her.

My colleague explained to her what had happened and quietly pointed out that she had, essentially, stolen the books. [Girl], unimpressed, stormed out, never to be seen again.

At least we were able to call the researcher and she was able to get her work done.