The Oberlin Review
<< Front page News October 14, 2005

Mudd staff responds to thefts
Library center ups security
A-level: These students, and everyone else who wants to enter Mudd from now on, will have to go through ID-check.

Mudd Library staff took an unprecedented move in an attempt to combat the recent series of backpack thefts in the library. As of Oct. 6, a white check-in table frequently sits inside Mudd to the right of the entrance. At the check-in table, students must present their Oberlin ID or sign in with their T-number to access the library. Unaffiliated users can still gain entrance by presenting identification and signing in.

Student reaction to the table has ranged from surprise to appreciation.

“At first people were like, ‘whoa,’ and then they’d ask why.... Some have even said, ‘It’s about time you guys started doing it,’” said Lisa Brlas, the evening circulation supervisor for the table.

After presenting their ID, many students have thanked the staff for the monitoring system.

Head of Circulation Allison Gallaher estimated roughly 25 percent of visitors express appreciation. To her knowledge, no students have complained.

“I haven’t been given a hard time about it,” said Gallaher.

Times vary for when the check-in table operates, partly due to staff shortage. Eventually, mostly circulation department student employees will handle check-ins. Until then, Brlas said she is helping the students learn how to manage the table. Since implementation of the check-in policy, only one theft has occurred, and it happened during an hour when the table was not running. For now, check-in is temporary.

“We have never done it before...I hope it won’t have to become permanent,” said Ray English, director of College libraries. He hoped the presence would make students more “attentive,” though not necessarily “over-anxious.”

The decision to create a check-in table came from the Mudd staff, the office of Safety and Security and the provost. English said the table fulfills two purposes.

First, it makes students aware of the thefts. English thought the table might be more effective than posted signs, such as the white board inside Mudd and the announcements on Mudd’s front doors. He also emphasized the need to “reinforce with students the need to protect their belongings.”

A second reason focused on giving the staff “a better idea of who is in the building,” said English, adding that the table is “a reasonable step to take to help protect students [and] at least add some additional level of security.”

Since the beginning of the semester, Director of Safety and Security Robert Jones reports that 15 to 20 backpack thefts have occurred. However, the pattern of “repeated thefts” began last spring, according to English. So far, there has been difficulty in narrowing the list of suspects. The College has yet to determine whether a student or non-student is responsible. English indicated that there was “some evidence that some of the thefts involve unaffiliated users.” Jones said he also “can’t say for sure” whether the culprit may be a student or non-student; however, he added that “we have experienced a number of non-students in Mudd.”

According to Jones, the stolen backpacks are emptied of money, Oberlin ID cards and occasionally cell phones. After backpacks are emptied of their contents, they are deposited in isolated areas, usually a floor above or below where they were taken.

The thefts have occurred all over Mudd, even in public areas while other students sit nearby.

“Looking back at how [the] thefts occurred,” said Jones, “the students usually go to a bookshelf or the bathroom” and then their backpacks vanish.

English mentioned a recent theft in which one student had been “very cautious about his backpack.” He left it for a maximum of “ten seconds for a drink of water” and the backpack had disappeared, said English.

The lesson for students is to “never leave their belongings unattended even for a few seconds,” concluded English.


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