How to steal from the Reference Library

Hi. Still discouraged lately. But I have not stopped chatting with my friends at the library, taking out too many books (net 197 last year), and submitting more blue forms, with more attached documentation, than anybody else.

In a surprisingly unpopular decision, TRL has gone “express” checkout. This means that every single open-shelf collection object had to be tagged. This was a horrifically ill-managed process, which I complained about to people’s faces three times and filed other complaints about on other occasions. I have a raft of photos of this process I will deal with later. Quite frankly it’s a nightmare. I keep telling you RFID is an ideology and I keep being right. Then again, the last thing you want to hear from me is a claim that I am right even if I am. Join the club there.


One consequence of self-checkout is sticking decals into and onto every graspable object in the biggest library in downtown Toronto. Another consequence is it is now much easier to steal from the Reference Library.

First of all, stacks-request items are not tagged. Either they will be or won’t be (depends whom I ask on what day), but the fact remains that many of those materials are fragile or cannot be defaced by RFID stickers the way basically every magazine in the system continues to be. You can still steal stacks-request items. No change from before.

But now it is quite easy to steal no-circ open-shelf items. Here’s how you do it.

  1. Pull the book you want to steal.

  2. Gather up at least five circulating items that are similar in format to the book you want to steal. Need to shoplift a hardcover book in clear Mylar? Get a couple of those from the Browsery. Odd-shaped paperback? Language-learning materials are full of those. CDs and DVDs? Quite straightforward. (VHS? You’re out of luck. Music scores? Nothing looks like those, and they all circulate.) For somewhat higher confidence, choose similar subject-matter or title (rarely difficult).

  3. Put the book you want to steal somewhere far away from the already-scratched Feig RFID pads we are now stuck with because they’re cheap. Run the five circulating items through self-checkout. The security bit will then be turned off and you will now have a printed receipt listing, in too much detail, all the titles you have just checked out.

  4. Leave one of the checked-out items behind. You can easily just shove it in the (still almost completely unmarked) return bin, or leave it on a truck. Or you could hand it to a staffmember. You don’t have to do any part of this operation covertly.

  5. Place the item you want to steal inside your pile. I think fourth down from the top would work best. Stick your receipt, edge poking out of the top, inside the front cover of the topmost book.

  6. Go through the security gate as usual. Do so right behind somebody else. Of course show them your bag. For extra distraction, carry a previously-checked-out book from a distant branch and dig it out and show them.

  7. The security guard will vaguely look at your list of titles and will probably double-check the number of books against the number of entries on the receipt.

  8. The whole pile will be slid past the newly-installed gates. Stand there and nonchalantly pack them up.

  9. Walk out of the library. Do not walk into any other branch that has a gate.

You have now stolen a book from the Reference Library.

I leave it to the Bruce Schneier manqué(e)s in my audience to determine what the points of failure in the new system actually are. I know of at least four.

I figured out a way to test this technique without actually stealing a book. TPL can contact me if it wants to run such tests. (It won’t. That would mean admitting I was right.)