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.)

Minor update

Yeah, hi. I don’t know what I’m doing with the library these days, or what it’s doing with me.

  • I keep telling you the Library Board is made up of pikers, seatfillers, pols, and lobbyists as far as the eye can see. Now we know its chair is willing to lie about driving drunk, albeit below the legal limit.

    All of these are the same people who:

    • Engineered a library strike, then sent the savings from that strike back to the city.

    • Then got the library’s budget cut.

    • Set up an advertising program one of whose first users was an ambulance-chasing personal-injury law firm (which refused to comment on that designation).

    • Started dinging people a buck for holds and for overdue DVDs, with the result that people are afraid to place holds and circulation is actually down for the first time in living memory.

    Should we also discuss the fact that it is now materially impossible for the public to comment in person or in writing on any issue before the Board at an immediately upcoming meeting? (This is the same Board that can and will refuse a written request to address it. How do I know? I’m the one they refused, after sitting around looking baffled at the request in the first place.)

  • Next?

    I still am waging this perverse cold war (I wouldn’t capitalize it) with Collections Development. That department and other petites fonctionnaires continue to swoop in and turn the screws on frontline staff who make the capital error of trying to help me. There is now an entire list of such staff harassed and countermanded by middle management – here as elsewhere, the most picayune yet power-mad stratum.

    I can only imagine how incensed CDD must be when we (not I – we) return rejected blue forms with an attached statement that, in effect, the reason for rejection was bullshit. This is the department that buys the TV series Gavin & Stacey, whatever that is, but deems Friday Night Lights and Southland inadmissible under criteria that actually aren’t published.

  • Levels of fuck-you in blue forms:

    1. Rejected

    2. 1 TRL reference-only

    3. 1 TRL, 1 NYCL

    Honourable mention: 1 TRL, 1 your branch

  • I was going to save this up till I actually had them in hand, but what the hell. There are two saving graces in this ongoing blue-form Kafka manqué.

  • Did you know they’re tagging the entire visible collection of the Reference Library in preparation for TPL’s new plan to facilitate wholesale theft of that branch’s irreplaceable items? You’d be surprised who inside the organization thinks this is the stupidest idea ever, in no small part because it is. You’d be even more surprised to learn that apparently the entirety of TPL management save one does not know what staff-only RFID checkout is despite its being in use in a dozen branches. That obviously means they do not know that staff-only is the correct configuration for the TRL Browsery.

Why don’t I take a break?

The last time I did that I missed the deadline to apply to become a boardmember. Now, we know that the lying – and now drug‑ and murder-implicated – executive administration would have smothered the thing in its cradle like a Somali crack baby, but I’m not making the same mistake twice.

In the back of my mind is always the following question: Will this be the week the library serves me with a notice that I am banned from its premises? While that would be the nuclear option, it is the only step they haven’t taken and I don’t put it past them. You wouldn’t believe the shit these graspers have tried to pull behind the scenes.

Want to go out for a soyaccino sometime? You’re buying.


Here is the oversized-holds cart at Yorkville – necessary because the wall shelves are too short, but having the side effect of exposing interesting books to whomever passes by. I always take a look.

Cart with a couple of items on it and taped-on Oversized Holds sign

One day I saw a children’s book and could not quite understand the cover. I looked at the barcode: J UKR. A Ukrainian children’s book. (Cyrillic cursive is pretty hard to read even for someone like me who can painstakingly sound out roman type. It’s a piece of cake for native readers, obviously.)

Anyway. First of all, I didn’t know the library had Ukrainian children’s books. (French, Chinese, Italian, Portuguese – sure.) So they exist. But not at Yorkville. Somebody put a hold on it. And that somebody is going to be a very interesting patron.

Who is she? What’s her background? Against all odds, is she teaching her kids Ukrainian? (The ancestral language must be preserved at any cost!) Isn’t she interesting, I repeat?

But because of RFID self-checkout, Yorkville staff will never meet her, never get to know her, have no inkling of what could be a new set of customers with unique needs.

This Ukrainian-speaking mom – I am aware of the assumptions I’m using here, thanks – becomes a cog in a machine: Search for book via computer, place hold via computer, enter branch and bypass every human being to check out book by computer.

This Ukrainian-speaking child is not a computer, nor is the mother. Because of a decision to turn every item in the Toronto Public Library into a miniature radio transmitter (even Ukrainian children’s books) and download labour to library users, staff will never get to know either of them.

TPL vice-chair (and – though no longer on the official registry – registered lobbyist) Mike Foderick: “The Toronto Public Library is in the stone age, in my opinion, when it comes to RFID.