Book thefts cost Austin libraries $1.1M in 5 years

February 17, 2013 2:29:03 PM PST
The Austin Public Library system loaned out $1.1 million worth of books and other items in the past five years that have not been returned, a newspaper and TV station found.

A review by the Austin American-Statesman and KVUE-TV found that library users owe more than $860,000 in late fees for books borrowed between 2008 and 2012.

Library officials say most of the losses are related to users keeping or losing items including books, movies, CDs and sometimes pricey art books. But in some instances, authorities believe the books, especially those with a higher price tag, were sold at secondhand stores.

In some cases, people have checked out hundreds of items. One frequent user in 2009 took a $125 Encyclopedia of Libertarianism along with other 282 items. The user owes $9,660 in late fees.

Including this user, library records show four library users owe the system for more than $3,000 each in late fees and for unreturned items. In 2010, one borrower checked out and did not return 112 items, including a $150 art book, and now owes $4,353. Another checked out 112 items and did not return them and owes $3,765.

The city won't release the names of people owing the highest amounts in late fees or the most items not returned, because state open records laws prohibit disclosing the identities or other information about library patrons.

Austin library rules say people with less than $10 in late fees can borrow an unlimited number of books. Beginning March 1, borrowers may take only 50 items at a time.

Library officials said that since 2011 they started requiring cards be renewed every year, so they would have more current addresses in case items are not returned or there are outstanding fees.

Experts consulted by the newspaper say the rate of unreturned items is consistent with other cities the size of Austin.

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