Vandalism in Libraries: Causes, Common Occurrences and Prevention Strategies
by Sandra Hart


This paper was originally created in June 2003 as the final assignment for LIS 598 - Library Preservation, Security and Risk Management. This document was converted to HTML to meet the LIS 600 capping exercise requirements of the MLIS program, School of Library and Information Studies, University of Alberta.
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Introduction
The Problem of Vandalism
The Definition and Categorization of Vandalism
Vandals - Who Are They and What Do They Want?
Vandalism in Libraries
The Costs of Vandalism
Prevention and Action Strategies
Conclusion
Annotated Bibliography

Introduction

Vandalism is a problem that affects libraries of all types. As custodians of library collections, it is part of librarians' responsibility to ensure they are adequately informed in order to prevent vandalism as much as possible and to be prepared in the inevitable event that vandalism occurs in their libraries. This paper will examine the problem of vandalism facing libraries. It will look at the classification of vandalism as it is thought that by understanding the categories of vandalism, prevention strategies may be better tailored to fit the problem at hand (Goldstein). The research on typical vandals will be explored. The different types of vandalism that occur in libraries will be discussed, with examples from the literature. Material that is a frequent target for vandalism, including sexual, religious and racist materials will be discussed. The costs of vandalism, both monetary and social, will be addressed. This paper will conclude with an examination of a host of prevention strategies.

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The Problem of Vandalism

Although statistics regarding the rates of vandalism in libraries are somewhat sparse, there appears to be no question that vandalism is a problem for libraries of all types. Arnold Goldstein notes that eighty percent of university libraries experience significant mutilation of materials. Even more distressing is the finding of Elizabeth Smith and Lydia Olszak that ninety-five percent of the respondents in their survey of art libraries reported problems with mutilated materials. One explanation for the difference in findings may be the heavily illustrated nature of art materials. In Terry Pedersen's anonymous survey of 235 university students, just over ten percent admitted to ripping pages from material. Public libraries are also not immune to vandalism. One survey of public libraries that subscribed to Playboy found that two-thirds of the respondents had problems with vandalism of just that magazine (Cornog and Perper).

Not only is vandalism a problem because of the damage to materials, equipment or buildings, that in some cases may be irreplaceable, but it also presents a problem for library staff and library users. In Pedersen's survey, fifty-five percent of the university students surveyed indicated that mutilated materials had inconvenienced them. An earlier study of university students suggested the number of people who had been inconvenienced by mutilated materials was even higher, at over seventy percent (Gouke and Murfin). The inconvenience of patrons often translates to problems for librarians who, for example, find themselves scrambling to assist patrons who present them with unusable material that they need for a term paper with a looming deadline.

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The Definition and Categorization of Vandalism

To properly prepare for and prevent vandalism, it is important to consider what acts constitute vandalism. Goldstein suggests that acts of vandalism have in common three central concepts: intentionality, destructiveness and property ownership. In other words, "[v]andalism is an intentional act of destruction or defacement of property not one's own" (Goldstein 22). With respect to mutilated material, Badri Prasad has suggested that "mutilated" refers to any act that makes material unfit for reading, either partially or completely. Utilizing Prasad's definition, mutilation of materials would include such acts as cutting pages, highlighting, underlining, making notes in the margins, and adding materials, such as stickers or letters that are not meant to be part of the material.

A number of authors, including Goldstein and Stanley Cohen, have recognized certain categories of vandalism, many of which are common in libraries. The first category is acquisitive vandalism, which involves acts done to obtain property or money (Goldstein). Examples of acquisitive vandalism that may occur in libraries includes damage to parking meters, public telephones, vending machines, and photocopiers (Lincoln). The second classification of vandalism is tactical vandalism. It includes acts done to accomplish goals other than monetary gain (Cohen), such as graffiti (Lincoln) or the defacement of material by a student to prevent the use of that material by fellow students. The third type of vandalism is ideological vandalism, which are acts done in promotion of a social, political or other cause (Goldstein), such as the placement of KKK stickers within materials in a public library ("KKK"). Often ideological vandalism will be identifiable by the materials targeted (Cornog and Perper). Vindictive vandalism, the fourth category, involves acts to gain revenge (Goldstein). In her review of the literature, Constantia Constantinou found that there were contrary studies as to whether or not hostility towards a library is a significant factor in a vandal's motivation. The fifth category is play vandalism. It includes acts of destruction or disfigurement in the course of play (Goldstein), such as a group of teenagers who decide to play target practice with library windows. The final category of vandalism is malicious vandalism. These acts express rage or frustration (Goldstein). Examples a library might encounter include the clogging of toilets or sinks, setting off fire alarms or sprinkler systems, or urinating in public places (Lincoln). While the above categories have not been extensively tested so as to verify their comprehensiveness and reliability (Goldstein), they may be useful in designing appropriate prevention practices.

Explanations for vandalism in libraries, and in particular the mutilation of materials, are diverse. Martha Cornog and Timothy Perper, who have extensively examined the treatment of sex materials in libraries, suggest that convenience and privacy enter into the decision to mutilate materials. Likewise, Ann Curry, Susanna Flodin and Kelly Matheson's interviews with public librarians found that they believed one factor influencing vandalism of materials was embarrassment at signing out the materials, which they submit re-emphasizes the importance of librarians remaining non-judgmental. Prasad submits that idleness and selfishness are the primary motivations for mutilation:

A sluggard is a problem for librarians. He is habitually lazy and inactive. He wants all the documents of interest to him to be at his service. He never takes pain to take notes and is always looking for a chance to take out the document or tear out the pages of his interest from the document. (34)
He acknowledges, however, other motivations such as shortage of time, lack of provisions for copying, ill health, vengeance, and anger at being deprived of material, such as in special collections. In a similar vein to Prasad's rather passionate views, the majority of students surveyed by Pedersen believed that people mutilated and stole materials without thinking of the needs of others. Constantinou argues that academic pressure may contribute to the mutilation but that usually the motivation for vandalism is not related to the quality of library services received by the vandal.

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Vandals - Who Are They and What Do They Want?

It seems logical that if potential or actual vandals could be easily identified, librarians would have a much easier time preventing vandalism from occurring in their libraries. Unfortunately, vandals do not advertise their intentions and may be very difficult to detect both before or after the vandalism has occurred. From Pedersen's survey of university students, she was able to describe the profile of a typical vandal as being either sex, twenty to twenty-two years old, a junior or senior, and having a GPA in the range of 2.0 to 2.9. Her profile does not exactly limit the field of potential suspects. She also found that students who spent more time in the library were less likely to damage library materials. Conversely, students who wrote fewer term papers were more likely to damage periodicals. The majority of students, whether admitted vandals or not, believed that damaged materials were easily replaced. Pedersen also found that students who admitted to vandalizing materials were more likely to believe that a large percentage of students were involved in mutilation. Unfortunately, although perhaps not surprising, sixty-one percent of the students she surveyed indicated that they would do nothing if they saw someone mutilating materials, while only thirty percent indicated that they would report the incident. From the data Pedersen gathered, she suggests that librarians need to be alert to signs that students are having difficulties while in the library as increased frustration levels may lead to the decision to damage materials.

Pedersen admits that, regardless of her profile, students cannot be identified as potential vandals. Goldstein agrees that vandals are hard to identify, although he maintains that vandals are more likely to be male and Caucasian. He also notes that vandalism is quite often a group activity and that most vandalism (of schools, libraries and other sites) occurs before and after school hours, at night, on weekends, during vacation times, later in the school week, and later in the school year. From his review of the literature, Alan Lincoln suggests that the number of patrons using a library and the size of city in which the library is located relate to an increased rate of vandalism. He also found that libraries close to schools tend to have more vandalism outside their building. He did not find that the socio- economic status of the community in which the library is situated is a factor in library vandalism. Along with her finding that the quality of library services does not appear to be factor in a vandal's motivation, Constantinou found no relationship between the availability of indexing and abstracting services of databases and the amount of mutilation of periodicals.

Although potential vandals cannot be identified as they walk into the library, the (above) literature is useful in identifying key times when vandalism may be expected. It also illuminates certain factors that apparently relate to an increase in vandalism. Librarians who identify when and where these factors are present may have a better chance of designing effective prevention strategies.

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Vandalism in Libraries

Vandalism in libraries can take many forms. Lincoln has enumerated six types of vandalism in libraries, including: intentional damage to materials, vandalism outside the building, vandalism inside the building, vandalism to vehicles, vandalism to equipment, and arson. For example, one public library in Georgia spent $5,000 in one month repairing windows that were repeatedly broken by vandals (G.M.E.). Prevention strategies for all types of vandalism will be presented in the last section of this paper. The remainder of this section will explore the insidious problem of materials mutilation.

Many authors, such as Robert Schumm do not believe that complete elimination of materials mutilation is possible. However, he suggests that understanding the types of materials that are most frequently mutilated is the first step in reducing the problem. For example, studies have shown that materials about controversial subjects and materials in special formats are more frequent targets than other materials (Curry, Flodin and Matheson). The survey of libraries subscribing to Playboy that found two-thirds of the libraries experienced problems with that magazine alone (Cornog and Perper) supports the contention that controversial materials are a target for vandalism. The literature abounds with examples such as the vandalism of twelve gay-positive books in the Central Michigan University library ("Gay"). The books were discovered with ripped out pages and tossed into toilets. Although not vandalism of sex materials per se, six Boston public libraries found copies of an illustrated essay supporting pedophilia as an acceptable practice pasted into their books (R.O.). Cornog and Perper warn librarians about treating the vandalism of sex materials differently than the vandalism of other materials. They suggest that it is inappropriate to choose not to carry sex materials where such a decision would not be considered for other types of materials. They recommend employing the same strategies to prevent vandalism as librarians use for other materials, and not to opt for simply restricting or not replacing the materials.

Religious materials are also prone to be vandalized. For example, in four Indiana university libraries, works written about Jehovah's Witnesses had their pages slashed and torn and were dumped into garbages (Rogers). The vandal also left Jehovah's Witnesses literature throughout one of the libraries. The library staff in one academic library in Arkansas spent the summer using heat to remove stickers bearing a pro-KKK message that had been applied to almost six hundred books ("KKK"). The unusual but happy result in their case was that through increasing their security patrols and the posting of plain- clothes police, they caught the vandal.

Not only controversial materials are the targets for vandalism. For example, in California, the modern American poetry collection of twenty libraries was targeted by a "book slicer" (E.McC.). In Curry, Flodin and Matheson's interviews with public librarians, the most commonly vandalized materials reported by the interviewees were magazines, cookbooks and children's materials. Another common complaint from the librarians was patrons who filled out the crossword puzzles of the daily newspapers carried by their libraries. They indicated that in confronting patrons, they seemed oblivious to the fact that they were ruining the paper for future readers. Similar to Curry, Flodin and Matheson's findings, Schumm has found that popular magazines tend to be more frequently targeted than scholarly journals. In Schumm's follow up study of the mutilation of popular magazines, he found that most mutilation occurs within the first three years after their publication, which makes sense given the heavier use of newer materials. Studies have also shown that unrepaired vandalized material is more likely to be vandalized again than material that has not been vandalized (Schumm).

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The Costs of Vandalism

There are both monetary and social costs associated with vandalism in libraries (Goldstein). Unfortunately, there are few statistics or studies as to the costs incurred by libraries in addressing vandalism. Curry, Flodin and Matheson found that the librarians they interviewed generally believed it was not worthwhile to keep statistics relating to this area and were unable to estimated the costs associated with vandalism in their libraries. Similarly, in Smith and Olszak's survey of academic art libraries, less than twenty percent kept statistics relating to the mutilation of their materials. It is unfortunate, given the statistics mentioned earlier as to the large number of libraries that experience vandalism, that more information is not kept about the costs they incur. Although adding yet another task to librarians' overcrowded plate, statistics regarding the costs incurred in addressing vandalism could be a powerful component in convincing those in charge of funding that certain security or prevention measure are warranted.

Some monetary costs of vandalism are obvious such as the cost of replacement and repairs. Other costs, however, may not be immediately apparent to library users, such as the increased clerical time spent ordering materials or repairs or tracking suppliers, transportation costs involved in shipping materials in need of repair or new materials being ordered, the differential between the replacement of an item compared to the original price, the custodial labour spent cleaning up debris, security investigations, and prosecutions (Goldstein). There are also social costs incurred as a consequence of vandalism such as the stress of the act itself and the added work it can entail, feelings of insecurity by both the library staff and its users (Goldstein), and the reputation of the library either following from the feelings of insecurity or as an easy target for further acts of vandalism.

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Prevention and Action Strategies

The literature presents a wide variety of responses and prevention strategies for vandalism in libraries. As in other areas of risk management, a key component of any approach to addressing vandalism is planning. Prevention approaches that combine a number of different strategies are likely to be more effective (Goldstein). Goldstein suggests that the most successful approach will be comprehensive, prescriptive, and appreciative. As well, he recommends that the strategies must be implemented with adequate attention to the integrity, intensity and coordination of the intervention. In other words, librarians' approach to vandalism should take into account the individual needs of their library. Their efforts should be planned and carried out in an intentional manner.

Goldstein suggests a number of anti-vandalism strategies that address both the environment, that being the library, and the person, or the potential vandal. The first is target hardening. It includes the use of devices or materials designed to obstruct vandals by physical barriers. Examples would include fire and break resistant books returns (Lincoln), toughened glass, window-screens, and tamper-proof hardware for signs (Goldstein). Access control is a strategy that uses architectural features and mechanical or electronic devices to keep control over entry to the library, such as key control systems, locked doors, and where appropriate, student identification (Goldstein). Similarly, exist-entry screening seeks to increase the detection of people who are not in conformity with entry requirements or to detect objects that should not be removed, through the use of devices such as closed- circuit televisions, metal detectors, motion detectors, and library book tags (Goldstein).

Deflecting offenders refers to intentional efforts to channel vandal's potentially destructive behaviour into more positive directions by physically altering the environment, for example, through the use of graffiti boards, mural programs, the layout of pathway circulation, and interesting wallpaper or even chalkboard on bathroom walls (Goldstein). Mary Hauge recommends libraries design their traffic patterns such that there are as few blind spots as possible and so that they move past the circulation or reference desk. She also suggests that libraries provide an outlet for young patrons' energy by keeping a "wish list" of tasks that need to be accomplished around the library, such as making posters or moving furniture. Controlling facilitators is another way to curb vandals' behaviour through altering the environment, but by making the means of their behaviour less accessible, less available or less potentially injurious, such as placing signs, thermostats, fire alarms, and light switches far from reach or in secluded areas (Goldstein). Thought needs to be given, however, to the unintended consequence of making it easier for vandals to escape once they find those items.

Surveillance should be part of any library's vandalism prevention approach. Goldstein recommends two types of surveillance. The first is traditional formal surveillance by police, security guards, citizen groups or paid or voluntary security personnel. The second type of surveillance is that which naturally occurs by employees such as librarians and custodians while completing their daily activities. Any surveillance should be at irregular intervals so that potential vandals cannot predict when a certain area will be unobserved (Lincoln).

Other strategies enumerated by Goldstein include target removal, which entails the physical removal or increased inaccessibility of potential vandalism targets, such as signs, plants, fittings and pay phones. Similarly, removing inducements refers to the physical alteration, as opposed to removal, of vandalism targets, for example by quickly repairing damaged materials and graffiti (Goldstein). Most libraries have already implemented Goldstein's next strategy, which is the identification of library property by physically marking it.

Goldstein describes rule setting as making express statements of both acceptable and unacceptable behaviour, as well as the consequences for misbehaviour, available and well posted. To keep rule setting from being an empty threat, libraries should follow through with punishment, another strategy suggested by Goldstein, by enforcing their rules on the (unusual) occasions that vandals are caught. Punishments may include fines, restitution, or suspension of library privileges. Another Goldstein strategy, counselling, may be appropriate for vandals, such as young students caught vandalizing a school or public library. As well as publicizing the library's rules, publicity may be used to inform potential vandals and the general public of the problem and costs of vandalism through such means as anti- vandalism advertising, new releases, decals, slogan contests, anti-vandalism buttons, t-shirts, rulers, bookmarks, posters, and flyers (Goldstein). Lincoln recommends that libraries share the costs of anti-vandalism advertising and other publicity such as public service announcements by partnering with schools or transit authorities.

Goldstein's final two prevention strategies involve the interaction between potential vandals, the library, and the library staff. The first is involvement, that is, making efforts to increase would-be vandals' involvement and sense of ownership of the library and library materials. This may take the form of personalizing the environment or inviting participating in decision-making. For example, Cornog and Perper recommend that librarians meet with representatives of groups who hold particular political or religious opinions to involve them in the development of a collection that represents their viewpoints and gain their input in helping prevent vandalism of those collections. Hauge maintains that students who feel a sense of ownership of materials will be more likely to guard them. Another way to connect with library users is to seek their involvement in anti-vandalism campaigns, through slogan contests, designing posters, and having voluntary patrols (Lincoln). Keeping the library busy through opening its doors for meetings by local groups, education classes, exhibits, and lectures may also be a way to increase patrons' sense of ownership of the library (Lincoln). Goldstein's final strategy is to address the organizational climate of the library, which concerns implementing procedures for enhancing the quality of the vandal's social, education and daily living contexts, such as the modeling of respect by library staff to all patrons and librarians having a visible presence within the library.

Another popular vandalism prevention strategy is to implement an educational campaign. Some librarians might worry that they are only providing vandals with ideas by publicizing examples of vandalism. That concern may be diminished, according to Cornog and Perper, if the consequences of vandalism are part of the campaign. Another concern is whether or not an educational campaign actually makes a difference. Mary Gouke and Marjorie Murfin found in their study of periodical mutilation that an education program in their university libraries made a significant positive difference in decreasing the amount of mutilation. They found from the study of the same periodicals before and after the campaign that the rate of mutilation had dropped by approximately twenty-three percent. Their programs included posters advising that replacements of damaged materials were not always possible, articles addressing the problem in the campus newspapers, and signs about the availability of photocopiers. Vandalized materials could also be used in displays (Cornog and Perper).

With respect to the mutilation of books, sometimes restricted access will be warranted by adding the materials to the reserve or special collections of a library where patrons have to sign in to receive access (Cornog and Perper). For example, Curry, Flodin and Matheson suggest placing newspapers behind the circulation or reference desks. Smith and Olszak outline certain factors that will influence whether materials should be given restricted access such as the subject matter, the value, any past mutilation, and the overall condition of the materials. Other selection criteria include: the importance of the material within the overall collection, the availability of replacement copies, the format of the material, and whether or not the material is heavily illustrated (Zeidberg). The same factors, as well as the cost of replacements or repairs will also influence what to do with materials once mutilation has occurred (Smith and Olszak). Placing materials on reserve may also be appropriate when they are vulnerable due to heavy demand created by assignments and works towards giving everyone a chance to view the materials (Hauge). Coordination with professors, or in the case of public libraries with schools, may be desirable so that libraries are forewarned when certain materials will be in heavy demand (Lincoln).

Finally, many authors support easy, convenient access to photocopiers, which should charge the lowest possible rate (Prasad, Pedersen, Constantinou). The only prevention strategy that received support from the majority of students in Pedersen's survey was free photocopying. A corollary would be readily accessible change machines (Constantinou) or the ability of the library to make change for patrons.

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Conclusion

Vandalism is a problem that is faced by every librarian in every type of library. The costs in terms of money and time can be consuming. The identification of vandals is difficult, if not impossible. Unfortunately, most vandals are not caught. However, there are many well-researched, practical strategies, some of which are inexpensive, which libraries may implement to curb vandalism. As custodians of their collections, all librarians should have a plan for dealing with vandalism when it occurs and for preventing its occurrence in the first place.

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Annotated Bibliography

Cohen, Stanley. "Property Destruction: Motives and Meanings." Vandalism. Ed. Colin Ward. London: H.E. Warne, 1973. 23-53. Cohen outlines the categories of vandalism, such as acquisitive, tactical, etc.

Constantinou, Constantia. "Destruction of Knowledge: A Study of Journal Mutilation at a Large University Library." College and Research Libraries 56 (1995): 497-507. The author's study examined the extent and rate of mutilation of periodicals and what subject areas were most vulnerable to mutilation. She also examined the literature regarding the motivation to vandalize library materials.

Cornog, Martha and Timothy Perper. "From Access to Vandalism." For Sex Education, See Librarian: A Guide to Issues and Resources. Westport: Greenwood Press, 1996. 115-136. The authors address the problem and prevention of vandalism of sex materials.

Curry, Ann, Susanna Flodin and Kelly Matheson. "Theft and Mutilation of Library Materials: Coping with Biblio- Bandits." Library and Archival Security 15:2 (2000): 9-26. The authors present their findings from their interviews with public librarians in Vancouver about mutilation and theft of library materials.

E.McC. "Book "Slicer" Hits Over 20 California Poetry Collections." American Libraries. 26 (1995): 391-392. Academic Search Premier. EBSCO Host. U of Alberta Lib. 22 May 2003. News article regarding the vandalism of modern American poetry collections by an unknown vandal.

"Gay Books Defaced at University." American Libraries. 27 (1996): 32. Academic Search Premier. EBSCO Host. U of Alberta Lib. 08 May 2003. News article about the vandalism of a dozen gay-positive materials in an academic library.

G.M.E. "Vandals Repeatedly Target Library Windows." American Libraries. 28 (1997): 19. Academic Search Premier. EBSCO Host. U of Alberta Lib. 08 May 2003. News article about a public library's struggle with repeated broken windows caused by vandals during one summer.

Goldstein, Arnold P. The Psychology of Vandalism. New York: Plenum Press, 1996. Goldstein presents an in-depth examination of the categories of vandalism, the costs, and numerous prevention strategies that address both the vandal and the environment.

Gouke, Mary Noel and Marjorie Murfin. "Periodical Mutilation: The Insidious Disease." Library Journal 105:16 (1980): 1795-97. The authors' follow up study of periodical mutilation following an anti-vandalism educational campaign. They found that mutilation of the same periodicals studied before the campaign decreased by twenty-three percent after the campaign.

Hauge, Mary. "How to Grapple with Graffiti, Vanquish Vandalism, and Leap Tall Buildings in a Single Bound." Book Report 13:4 (1995): 14-15. Academic Search Premier. EBSCO Host. U of Alberta Lib. 08 May 2003. The author presents several practical steps for preventing vandalism in school libraries.

Lincoln, Alan Jay. "Vandalism: Causes, Consequence and Prevention." Library and Archival Security 9:3/4 (1989): 37- 61. Lincoln discusses the types of vandalism that occur in libraries and a number of prevention strategies.

"KKK Labels Library Books." American Libraries 26 (1995): 758. Academic Search Premier. EBSCO Host. U of Alberta Lib. 08 May 2003. News article about a library that was required to remove pro- KKK stickers from 600 books.

Pedersen, Terri L. "Theft and Mutilation of Library Materials." College and Research Libraries 51 (1990): 120-28. Pedersen presents the findings from her survey of university students about the problem of mutilation of library materials.

Prasad, Badri. Problems of Misplacement, Mutilation and Theft of Books in Libraries. India: BP Goswami, 1968. An older work that focuses on the causes and solutions for vandalism, complete with illustrations and poetic prose.

R.O. "Massachusetts Librarians Find Pedophilia in Books." American Libraries 25 (1994): 300-01. Academic Search Premier. EBSCO Host. U of Alberta Lib. 08 May 2003. News article about six libraries that found an essay with illustrations supporting pedophilia pasted into a number of their books.

Rogers, Michael. "Serial Slasher Stalks in Stacks." Library Journal 122:10 (1997): 14-15. ABI Inform. Proquest. U of Alberta Ltd. 22 May 2003. News article about the mutilation of materials about Jehovah's Witnesses in four libraries.

Schumm, Robert W. "Periodicals Mutilation Revisited: A Two-Year Follow Up Study." The Serials Librarian. 25 (1994): 201-205. Schumm presents his follow up study of periodical mutilation, finding that most mutilation occurs within three years after publication.

Smith, Elizabeth H. and Lydia Olszak. "Treatment of Mutilated Art Books: A Survey of Academic ARL Institutions." Library Resources and Technical Services. 41 (1997): 7-16. The authors present their findings from a survey of academic art libraries regarding problems with mutilation. They also discuss criteria for dealing with mutilated materials and for deciding to restrict access to materials.

Zeidberg, David S., ed. Collection Security in ARL Libraries. SPEC Kit 100.Washington: Association of Research Libraries, Office of Management Studies, 1984. Policy and procedure documents from various ARL libraries.

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This website was last updated March 3, 2005.
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