Locking it down

This past semester, we had a rash of laptop thefts. They started earlier in the semester than usual and just didn’t let up. These were not library laptops but student laptops that were being stolen — nice Macintosh laptops. Of course, we were working with our campus public safety office to try to identify any patterns and catch the thief or thieves. And we put flyers up around the library (which kept getting taken down), table tents in our cafe, and notices on our web site and Facebook urging students not to walk away from their belongings. Still, students continued to leave laptops, backpacks, textbooks, calculators, and sometimes cell phones and money unattended! I brought public safety staff in to talk to my library student advisory group, the Library Ambassadors, and we discussed ways that we could all raise awareness about the problem without compromising the undergoing investigation. Students suggested putting a big sign up when you enter the library with statistics about the thefts, but I didn’t think our admissions office would appreciate that during their prospective student tours. I realized that we weren’t going to change behavior with a bunch of flyers and notices…we needed to give students something to do. In an ideal world, we would have lockers in the library, but that’s a long-term goal (we’ve put requests into the capital budget for this in previous years but haven’t gotten anywhere with it).  So I suggested we purchase and circulate laptop locks for students to use with their own computers. We already lend out locks with the library-owned laptops we circulate, so this wasn’t a big stretch. Still, students weren’t so sure their peers would use the locks, and I had my doubts, too, since I’d seen them go unused with the library laptops. However, I just accessed the statistics and am pleased to find that, in the less than three weeks we had these in circulation, the seven laptop locks were checked out twenty-seven times and renewed four times.  A display that I set up at the front of the library helped to drive attention to the new items for the first week. I locked a laptop (admittedly, a busted one even though it shouldn’t have mattered) down to a desk in the lobby with one of the new locks and a sign indicating that they could be borrowed at the circulation desk. It was a roundabout way of advertising the thefts. What I’m particularly pleased to have “locked down” here is a discrete marketing opportunity: I identified a need, found a way to fulfill it and am now able to assess it. I’ll need to return to the campaign in subsequent semesters — if I had more students working for me, I would have had them walk around the library with the locks to encourage students to use them — but for now, I’m really happy with the low-cost and high-return I got on improving library culture.


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