More than 3,000 items have gone missing from the Edmonton Public Library (EPL) system from 2014 to 2017, according to data obtained by Global News.
A list of the missing items, which EPL marks as “stolen,” shows that the majority of items lost by the library are movies.
“It’s not surprising,” said Sharon Day, director of EPL branch services and collections.
“Blu-rays, DVDs, music, video games are our highest turnover collections. That means it got the most use per item, goes out the most times.”
The data analyzed by Global News shows the items missing include 2,166 movies, 574 CDs, 494 books or magazines and 34 video games or pedometers.
Day said video games and movies are some of the most expensive materials that the library purchases and said it is “disappointing” when they go missing.
However, she is satisfied with the bigger picture — the entire library collection is more than 1.1 million items, meaning the “stolen” items make up a small fraction of that.
“The amount that we’re at – we’re comfortable with. We know it’s a reasonable level and it’s something to be expected in all libraries, really,” Day said.
“It’s really a part of doing our business. We know, just like any retail establishment, that there’s going to be some items that are going to go missing when you are dealing with a collection that’s so large,” she said.
EPL user Margaret McKenzie said in that past, she ran into situations where she could not find an item that needed to be returned.
“It’s when you’re busy, you’re working, sometimes you can’t find the books or you can’t keep track of all the books all members of the family have at the library. Sometimes they do get missed,” she said.
McKenzie said incentives like fines or the potential for her card to be locked encouraged her to keep better track of her books.
“Sometimes you do find them, sometimes you don’t,” she said.
“It’s very frustrating, very frustrating. But as the mom who is the one who keeps the finger on these things, it just gives you a little bit of a push to say, ‘Look, I’ve got to keep a closer eye on these things.’”
Now that her children have moved out of the house, McKenzie said it is easier for her to keep track of her library items.
The library takes some measures to prevent items from being taken, including security tags on items, security gates at entrances and a tracking system that alerts EPL when an item is not returned. The user is contacted and reminded about the missing item; if it is not returned, the user is then charged for the replacement.
“Not all material that we charge customers for is paid for. Sometimes material comes back. Some of it is the customer just never does come back so we do end up absorbing the cost in those cases,” Day said.
She said the library collection is “fluid” and inventory is done every year to “weed” the items and ensure they are popular and relevant. Missing items are held to the same standard – Day said that if a missing item is no longer relevant or popular, it is not replaced.
So far in 2017, 1,004 items have been marked as “stolen” with a total cost of $27,530 to the library system. The number of items stolen and cost of those items have remained relatively stable over the last three years.
The cost to replace the entire EPL collection is more than $50 million. Day said the bigger issue, for her, is not the cost to replace the missing items but rather the impact the missing items have on library users.
“The bigger cost, I guess if you can call it that – sometimes the item is very popular and it goes missing. That means the next customer who had a hold on it in line has to wait longer because they won’t see it as fast as we would have liked for them,” she said.
© 2017 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.