Helena library theft increases

Published 12:00 am Thursday, June 26, 2008

By AMY GORDON / Staff Writer

Theft is on the rise at the Jane B. Holmes Public Library in Helena, said library director Victoria Ashford.

Thieves are focusing on the library’s collection of music and movies, rather than books, Ashford said.

“This library has the largest, and the best collection of music and movies in Shelby County,” she said. “It’s a draw for the public, and it’s a draw for the thieves.”

Library staff has ramped up security over the past six months, watching their collections more closely and asking library patrons to alert the staff to suspicious behavior.

Ashford said an incident occurred last week where a patron was suspected of theft. She called the Helena Police Department, and an investigation is pending.

“We take it as seriously as Wal-Mart takes shoplifting,” she said. “It’s theft of city property. These [materials] are purchased with public funds, and they’re for the common good.”

The financial drain on the library’s resources is very real, Ashford said. With DVDs retailing for at least $20 and music CDs for $15, thieves can quickly accumulate hundreds of dollars’ worth of stolen goods. However, the financial loss is not the worst part of thievery.

“The greater cost is that 20 to 30 people don’t get to use that material,” Ashford said.

Capt. Tim Carter of the Helena Police Department said there is a possibility of jail time or fines for those who steal from libraries.

He said those who steal, whether it be from a retail store or a library, usually do it for the thrill.

“The problem is that the general public can use these things,” he said. “Our tax dollars paid for the [materials] that are here, and there’s no insurance on them.”

Ashford said library theft has increased simply because libraries have diversified.

“Public libraries have gotten better and aren’t just about books anymore,” she said. “When you get the good stuff, somebody’s going to want that.