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Library thieves

March 5, 2009 | 10:44 am


L.A.'s Central Library, it was reported yesterday, is the site of more thefts of personal property than any other single site in the L.A. Police Department's central division. Which means when you go downtown to borrow a book, hold on to your Blackberry.

But wait. In 2008, there were 31 total theft reports filed: stolen items include bicycles, wallets and electronic gear. That's about 2.5 thefts a month. Is that so much?

By contrast, at the downtown Macy's, a few blocks away, police arrested an average of more than seven shoplifters per month in the same period. Apparently, theft and shoplifting are two different categories for the LAPD, even if in both cases someone has taken something that doesn't belong to them. In any event, the library doesn't seem to have been the first choice for thieves.

What's more, there are more than 7,000 people who visit the main branch of the L.A. public library each day. That's a pretty big number — and the space is big, more than half a million square feet. It's not hard to find a place to sit quietly, uninterrupted, for hours. I've done this, and I've seen others doing it, some of whom look as if the library is a respite from the filth and hazards of living on the street. When I'm there doing research, I haul my backpack (as much a drag as it is) with me when I take a break.

It's only sensible. If I were at Macy's, I wouldn't leave my purse in the middle of the floor when I ran to the bathroom.

The news of the thefts is sad — nobody's stuff should be stolen, and nobody should be desperate enough to steal purses from empty library carrels — but it's not as sad as I thought when I first read the headline. Because my initial fear was that people were going to the library to steal books. Now that would really be bad news.

— Carolyn Kellogg

Photo credit: Carolyn Kellogg