Wednesday, October 26, 2005

DVDs vanish off library shelves

Thieves in Gwinnett County have lifted enough DVDs from public library shelves to fill more than two video stores and wipe out nearly half the system's collection.

The thefts got so bad — nearly 17,000 discs in all — the library board quietly shut down the 5-year-old program last month and began selling off the remaining inventory.

McCloy and others want the program back. But the library board isn't likely to relent.

"The economics don't add up right now," English said.

The lost discs have already cost the taxpayer-funded library system about $250,000, administrators estimated. They say better DVD security would cost at least $150,000 a year, money the system can't afford for a collection that accounts for less than 4 percent of all checkouts.

Gwinnett's collection included only children's titles, such as those featuring Barney and Wiggles, and educational selections from producers like National Geographic. The only feature-length movies were "Cinderella" and similar titles.

Librarians first started noticing DVDs were missing a couple of years ago. Parents arrived home from the library with DVD cases that turned out to be empty. Or DVDs would be missing from shelves, even though the library's computer system showed they had not been checked out.

Library workers didn't catch on to the scope of the problem until early 2004. A routine inventory showed the DVDs were missing at a higher rate than books, CDs, magazines and other materials.

Suspicious, administrators called the system's 12 branches and asked librarians to look inside the cases to see if they still contained discs. Many were empty.

In all, thieves made off with 44 percent of the system's roughly 39,000 DVDs. Theft rates for other types of materials, such as books, are less than 2 percent, marketing director Cindy Murphy said.

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