So. Times are bad. Crime is up.
There have been, to my knowledge, five laptops stolen out of the library this semester. All of those were reported as having been left unattended. It is very easy to pick up a laptop, shove it in a backpack and walk out the door. The staff have no way of stopping anyone—we don’t check everybody’s bags, and if we did, we wouldn’t know who had their own laptop, who had borrowed a friend’s with permission, and who was a thief.
You may be asking yourself, Why would someone walk away from a laptop lying on a desk? Well, it’s a fair question. Some of the reported incidents have involved bathroom breaks (or so was the claim); I have talked to people who seemed to think that it was tremendously inconvenient to gather up their things and shlep them over to the bathroom (or to one of our lockers, which require a quarter for deposit). I actually understand this. Most of the time that somebody walks away from their stuff, they walk back after five minutes to find it untouched. I would be willing to guess that happens nineteen times out of twenty. That’s pretty good odds.
Unless, of course, you don’t want to have your laptop stolen. In that case, the odds stink.
As library employees, we have to figure out how to deal with the people who figure that their odds are good. That is, every few hours, a library employee will spot a neglected laptop. We don’t have a real policy for this, not a properly published policy. What we generally do is hang around for a bit waiting for the owner to come back, at which point we inform the laptop owner that five laptops have been stolen out of the library this semester, and that his could well have been the sixth. The student expresses chagrin and the employee goes back to the desk and gripes to co-workers, who shake their heads. This is about as effective in dealing with the problem as the four-dozen signs we posted.
I believe, by the way, that there are professionals hanging around the library, particularly on evenings and weekends, mingling with the students and keeping their eyes open for opportunities. If this is not the case, then laptop fencing must not be very lucrative, as it certainly appears to be an obvious niche if there’s money in it. But it is possible that it is students doing the thieving for their own benefit. There is disagreement in amongst the staff about the theft of the X-Box from the Collaboration Pod; there are people who feel that the unit is most likely sitting in a dorm room, a replacement for a busted one, and there are people who feel that the unit was traded by a student for drugs or drug money, and those who agree with YHB that a professional took the thing to his fence. No evidence, of course, just a difference in worldview. I should say that the students who work at the desk tend to the idea that the thieves are other students, which might carry some observational weight.
At any rate, whether the laptops are being taken by students or outsiders, we would like it to stop. And we aren’t sure how to go about instilling more caution in our patrons (which is the best and easiest first step). Some of us feel that when we come across a laptop alone, we should take it to the circ desk, leaving behind a message that we have taken protective custody. The drawbacks of this plan are obvious, but the benefits might possibly outweigh them. I don’t know. I would think that would be the likeliest to spread via anecdote—a fellow who sees a message left on top of his laptop might not tell anyone, after all, even if his own actions are altered in future. And we won’t reach everyone individually, so we need to rely on social changes. On the other hand, I work at the circ desk, and I really really don’t want to be the one to whom the student applies for the safe return of their property. Particularly not as we get toward the end of the semester, when tempers are short.
I don’t really have a solution, nor do I expect GRs to come up with one (although, yes, it would be lovely). I’m just griping, because people are stupid and other people are dishonest, and the combination can really ruin my workday.
Tolerabimus quod tolerare debemus,