Three years ago, police recovered 52,000 stolen library books from the house of a Suffolk turkey farm worker. He had amassed the collection over 30 years from a range of museums, universities and public libraries.
His first target, at the age of 19, was a school library. If that school had adequate security measures in place at the time, perhaps his larcenous tendencies would have been nipped in the bud.
Stock theft is a growing problem for schools, particularly as these days the library area may have expensive and tempting items, including audio-visual material, CD-Roms and computer software.
3M has developed a security package which it guarantees will reduce book losses in the first year of installation by at least 80 per cent. It will use discreet markers called "Tattle-Tape triggers", which are placed inside each book or on audio-visual material, and are activated when the item is removed from the shelf. The marker is difficult to detect so that it can't be deliberately torn off.
If a marked item is taken out of the library without going through the proper loans procudure, an alarm is set off. In normal procedure, the marker is de-activated at the librarian's desk and will be re-sensitived on its return.
3M provides free advice for schools and can undertake a feasibility study on the best package to suit individual libraries. Apparently, most sites are capable of supporting the necessary equipment: the alarm is activated by pupils passing through a corridor area of two panels situated by the door.
The sensitising equipment can be locked away at the end of the day or when there is no librarian. 3M claims that its system is within the budgets of most schools and that with the high levels of savings made from cutting loss of stock, it could pay for itself in three years.
* 3M UK plc, Easthampstead Road, Bracknell, Berkshire RG12 1JE