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The Most Stolen Library Books

The Most Stolen Library Books

While there’s not a lot of hard data available on what books frequently disappear from library shelves, the FBI compiled a list of coveted titles back in 2008. However, that was based off one man’s particularly egregious stealing spree and was never released to the public for fear of a copycat book theft.

MainStreet was determined to find out whether or not our preconceived notions on library theft were actually true. (I pictured a hapless thief stealing a heavy Encyclopedia Britannica, while my editor thought everyone wanted The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.)

MainStreet talked to librarians, who filled us in on which books frequently go missing. Their answers were more scandalous than you’d expect from a story about libraries, so read on to find out which books and other publications are shoplifted out of circulation the most.

Photo Credit: CCAC North Library

Sports Illustrated: Swimsuit Edition

According to Scott DiMarco, director of library and information resources for Mansfield University of Pennsylvania, Sports Illustrated’s annual swimsuit edition, which features scantily clad models in exotic locales, doesn’t stick around long past its February debut.  Of course, DiMarco says, any book or publication that deals with “sex, especially if it’s illustrated” is likely to get lifted. This includes Kama Sutra manuals and erotica novels.

“Anything by Zane is gone in a flash,” librarian Ingrid Abrams tells MainStreet. Some of this urban erotica novelist’s New York Times bestsellers include Afterburn, The Heat Seekers and the Flava series.

Photo Credit: hyku

Art Books

Sex is so on-demand that thieves also target fancy art books, particularly if they include nude pictures or illustrations. According to Jean Dickson, a reference librarian for Lockwood Library at the University at Buffalo, these nonfiction books are often stolen, mistreated or abused.

“Sexy illustrations get ripped out,” she says, adding that it’s not just the sex appeal that makes these books a hot commodity. Expensive art books can also net a pretty penny when sold on auction sites like eBay.

Photo Credit: Iris Dragon

Test Prep Books

Test preparation books, such as those designed to help readers pass the ACT, GED, GRE or SAT, frequently disappear, and echoes 2001 findings from the American Library Association, which noted these books “all require extensive practice at home, and [take] longer than the four-week checkout period to get good at."

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Non-Circulating/Out-of-Print Reference Books

Cynthia Gregory, a librarian at Alice & Jack Wirt Public Library in Bay City, Mich., tells MainStreet that her library’s most stolen book is, hands down, The Michigan Divorce Manual, a do-it-yourself divorce kit with filing papers.

The guide may be simply be a local favorite –a nearby courthouse encourages visitors to check it out – but Gregory says it illustrates exactly what type of books libraries have a hard time keeping on their shelves. The manual is out of circulation, full of forms, and applicable to a process that typically extends beyond the standard check-out period.

Dickson has a similar problem in her library with America's Crossroads by Michael Vogel, a local history book that went out of print in 1993.

Photo Credit:  Jordhill School D&D Department

School Reading

While Gregory maintains that thieves seem to prefer reference books to literary masterpieces, she did say titles on local school or universities’ required reading lists “are usually among the missing.” One book her library has a hard time keeping in stock is David Pelzer’s A Child Called It, a memoir of child abuse that’s a popular assignment among many local college professors.

Photo Credit: matsuyuki

Pop Novels

Gregory explains people aren’t after the classics. Instead, thieves pocket books that deal with contemporary pop culture. While, generally speaking, autobiographies are left alone, the library’s been having a hard time keeping Lady Gaga biographies in circulation, and Kurt Cobain biographies also tend to disappear.

“Hot new bestsellers are often hoarded too, and occasionally stolen,” Dickson says. And, DiMarco adds, so are Lord of the Rings novels.

Photo Credit: Lars Ploughmann

Books on Paranormal Activity

Librarians note visitors are apt to steal books that deal with taboo, arcane or controversial subject matter. But while witchcraft, astrology, abortion, Islam, UFOs and Nazi-era material were among the topics cited in our informal survey, the genre dominating responses the most were books about paranormal activity.

“People who document ghost sightings or mysteries of homes in the area go missing,” Cynthia Gregory, a librarian at the Alice & Jack Wirt Public Library in Bay City, Michigan, tells MainStreet. So do books by the popular psychic Sylvia Brown.

Photo Credit:  Nels Geylen

The Most Stolen Cars in America

Just like books, some of the hottest, most popular vehicles are also the most stolen. Find out which vehicles made the list in this MainStreet article.

Photo Credit: Nissan

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