Missing books’ locations unknown due to library inventory system

By Katie McLaughlin

An unknown number of Pitt’s about 6 million library books are missing. The University does not… An unknown number of Pitt’s about 6 million library books are missing. The University does not know whether these books from Hillman Library are in use somewhere in the building, shelved incorrectly or stolen.

They fall through a hole in the University Library System, which provides patrons with the books they need but doesn’t always allow for the status of a missing book to be updated. Without taking an inventory of all the books — which Hillman Library does not do — the library system cannot know how many of the University’s books are missing, only how many are reported missing.

The University only lists books as “missing” when library staff cannot find them for patrons and then report them as not found.

Fern Brody, the associate University librarian who works under Rush Miller, director of the University Library System, said that she did not have an estimate of the number of books actually missing from the library that are unreported.

The University does not keep a running tally of the books in the Hillman Library’s collection, either, Brody said.

“Yeah, I don’t know how many books there are in Hillman,” she said.

Brody mentioned that she hopes to move away from providing tallies for the individual libraries’ materials.

What happens when books cannot be found

Sometimes a book listed as “available” in the library’s electronic catalog system, PITTCat+, cannot be found. If patrons go through the lending desk on the ground floor of the Hillman Library, there is a protocol to make sure the book is listed as “missing” in the library system.

The Lending desk sends a “stack check” form to the employees in Room 306 of the Hillman Library, who help patrons find books within the library. If the student employees cannot find the book, it will be listed as “missing” in the library system.

Hillman Library student assistant and Room 306 employee Ed Butina explained the process. “Lending is notified … and they’ll give us these pieces of paper that tell us to do stack checks. And if we can’t find them, we’ll mark ‘not found,’ we’ll give them back to lending on the ground floor, and then that’s where they deem it as missing.”

A hole in the system appears when a student directly asks employees in Room 306 for assistance finding a book. If a patron receives help from a 306 student employee and the employee cannot find the book, he or she then assists the patron by finding the book in one of the other University libraries or through an interlibrary loan using the “E-Z Borrow” system via the Pennsylvania Academic Library Consortium Inc. But Room 306 employees do not fill out the same forms as the lending desk does — those that would eventually mark books as “missing” in the library system, multiple Room 306 employees said.

Brody said 306 employees should fill out the same forms as the lending desk.

“They should be doing that, and it must have dropped off,” Brody said. “That was a process that they did before.”

Ann McLeod, head of Access Services for the ULS, said that employees from Room 306 sometimes notify the lending desk of books that are not found during stack checks. “Sometimes they do, and those get referred so that we can apply the missing status to the item.” She stated that “it’s practice that we, all of the library staff, should follow, whether everyone does or not.”

Why books go missing

The books could go missing for a number of reasons, including: a student actively reading the book at the library; the book being on a shelving cart or in a book-return bin; the book being mis-shelved by a patron or staff, or the book being hidden by a patron who does not want to share.

“I do know people that can hide books pretty well,” Hillman Library student assistant Cody Dickerson said. “Like, they have a book that they need to read or use for class that they don’t want checked out.”

Sophomore student employee Chris Yuhas says theft is also an issue. “I’ve noticed as a patron … where a student was leaving the library and he beeped. But I don’t remember exactly what the lending person said, but they beep sometimes because of their own textbooks, but, I mean, we don’t really have the right to say, ‘Let me check your bag,’ I mean, I think we have the authority to, but …”

Alumnus and library employee in the lending department Ben Danforth agreed. “People do steal books. We have sensors and that kind of stuff, but they go off infrequently, or sort of sporadically, and sometimes somebody else has, like, a DVD or something that sets it off.”

Brody said that there were some problems in the current protocol for handling alerts of the library’s sensors.

“They should be stopping people. Well, the person at the desk should be stopping,” Brody said.

“Now if the person runs out the door, we have the building person, a building supervisor. The person at the desk can try to either get somebody that’s working with them to go out and, of course, we try to call somebody,” she said. “Frankly, if somebody really wants to steal something, they’re going to steal it.”

Who keeps track of the books

Full-time library employees, including those who are responsible for the Hillman stacks, do not have permission to speak to the press.

When asked who is in charge of ensuring that library books listed as available are actually there, Henry Goodelman, graduate student and library student assistant, responded, “That would probably be a cumulative effort of ULS administration.”

Brody explained that McLeod “is responsible for lending, interlibrary loan and the media services area, as well as the off-site storage,” and Paul Beck, the Room 306 staff supervisor who reports to McLeod, “is responsible for the Hillman stacks, directly.”

But, Brody said, “I would guess I’m in charge of the procedures.”

Ultimately, Brody says the ULS does not have an estimate of how many books are missing from Hillman Library, nor do the staff members know how many books are housed in the library.

Brody said, “We haven’t done an inventory of Hillman Library. Some other departmental libraries have done that over different times. But at Hillman we haven’t. So there’s not a check. We’re not going to be saying, ‘Here was the count at the beginning, here was the count at the end.’”

When asked why an inventory of Hillman hadn’t been performed, Brody stated, “The work. It’s really kind of a massive project.”