Book theft, which has steadily increased over the past few years, is the most common crime in South African libraries and can have a significant impact on the bottom line. However, local developments of advanced library security technologies can reduce these losses, enabling libraries to better manage their assets.
This is according to Mario Martins, divisional director at CSX Customer Services – a group company of JSE-listed Metrofile Holdings – who says that South African libraries, particularly those located in educational institutions, are in dire need of proper security solutions to reduce the shrinkage of their assets.

“The theft of books from libraries found in educational institutions across Africa poses different challenges to anywhere else in the world. This is mainly due to a lack of infrastructure in the form of security systems and limited resources to address and manage the situation over the long-term,” says Martins.

The financial impact of library asset shrinkage can be significant with the replacement costs of items removed from a library proving hugely expensive, especially when one considers that just one book can cost thousands of rands.

“These financial losses can be drastically reduced should libraries invest in proper library security technology systems,” adds Martins.
He says that Africa experiences a unique challenge in terms of the shrinkage of its library assets.

“Through our experience, we identified that students could easily remove books from the building by raising the books above the existing library security detection system unit located at the exits the typical height of detection was only 1,2 metres.

“In order to address this unique challenge, CSX Customer Services developed a detection system that latches onto an existing internationally recognised library security systems thus enhancing its sensing capability and improving the existing security features by increasing the detection height to two metres,” adds Martins.

Martins explains that there are various technologies used in libraries to manage its assets, but the most common are Radio Frequency Identity (RFID) tag technology and Electromagnetic (EM) technology, each with its unique features and benefits.

He says that EM technology is the more common and affordable technology and works by attaching 3M strips to the spine of the books which sound the alarm when the book is removed without deactivation.

“This method is very effective in reducing theft from libraries.”
“RFID technology uses an active radio frequency tag that assists libraries with circulation and shelf management functions, by notifying them whether a book is in or out of the library in realtime,” says Martins.
“Self-check-in and out, another key feature, is also possible through RFID technology and enables patrons to return books after hours while automatically updating the system upon return.”

He says the use of both of these technologies is vital to preserving the assets within a library.
“Often, when organisations are faced with the threat of theft, additional staff is employed to mitigate this risk. However, the need for additional security staff is mitigated through the use of adequate library security systems.”

On-going losses in libraries due to the lack of proper security systems has the ability to change the expectations of staff responsibilities, with more emphasis placed on monitoring and policing patrons he says. “This has the ability to negatively impact staff productivity and ultimately job satisfaction.”

“Having a clear understanding of the amount of assets within a library at any given time is key to the efficiency of that library. By adopting library security technologies which directly assists in managing the assets within a library, the levels of efficiency can be improved and major financial losses avoided,” concludes Martins.