Library Fraud

If you know any librarians, don't show this to them. If you are in any way affiliated with Glenunga International High School and/or its library, this is all a big joke and most certainly did not happen. Why, I'd never even consider doing something like this! If you are not in any way affiliated with Glenunga International High School and/or its library, you may ignore that last sentence.

On the 19th of February, 2001, my research was finally recognised in a respected literary journal. This article appeared in Issue 1, Volume 69 of Adelaide University's "On Dit" student newspaper.

Joel's Guide to Library Fraud

By Joel

Libraries are a great place to get books. But have you ever lost a book? I did, for the first time ever several weeks back. Naturally I went through several stages; first shock, then denial, then psychotic violence. The realization that I would have to pay for the book ($12.95) and lose my book deposit ($50.00) in addition to having to face public humiliation (well, tell the library staff) caused me to think rationally about the situation. I did what any other person would do. Think of a way to get myself out of it.

The first thing I realized was that the library had two copies of this particular book (Good Omens - The Accurate and Nice Prophecies of Agnes Nutter by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gainman). Our library has a computerized borrowing system relying on barcodes, which reminded me that not only did I have a program to generate an arbitrary bar code, but that I had once made a duplicate bar code for my library card at my old school which I had tested with the assistance of the friendly librarians there. This gave me The Idea.

The first step was to work out the number of the book I had lost. This is printed beneath the code part. This was all very well, but the fact remained that I had lost the book on that fateful Friday afternoon somewhere between German and Maths and the number along with it. So I walked up to the desk and announced that I had a book overdue. This was met with "Oh.. you want to extend it" which had possibilities in itself, but I was on a mission. "No, I can't find it, and there's another copy on the shelf, so can you tell me what the bar code number is of the one I have out?" So the person told me, but it didn't sound 'right' to me, and I couldn't find any other books with similar numbers. So I waited until someone else was behind the desk and repeated this, and this time I looked at the screen of the terminal itself and got a copy of the number.

That weekend, I fired up the computer and made up the barcode of the book I'd lost and with the aid of a photocopy, attempted to produce a bar code strip with identical fonts and size. I made it 400% the size because my ink-jet print isn't of particularly high resolution and reducing it on the photocopier in the library would be the best way short of a laser printer to get the required quality. This was a large problem though, because I only had coins of large denomination and none of my friends ever seemed to have any change. But no matter, after several attempts, I produced a label of the correct size. I got a strip of sticky tape from the library's front desk and proceeded to tape the label over the bar code on the copy of the book which I had not lost. The quality wasn't totally brilliant.. it looked good from a distance but I wasn't entirely sure the scanner would accept it, but on the other hand, I reasoned that the staff would hardly be expecting something of this nature to occur, and in any case, if it didn't work, they would always be able to enter the numbers in manually. So I dropped it into the returns box.

The next day, I checked the shelf and it was there. I took off my bar code and decided to stick it inside my wallet as a symbol of modern sneakiness. Although I successfully got away with it, I have decided to never borrow any library books again because the incident has left me totally paranoid. But if you ever lose a book, or decide to 'borrow' one for an extended period of time (please don't unless they're really bad), perhaps this technique will be of use to you in the future. In the likely event that there isn't a second copy of the book, it might be possible to get away with using any book. I haven't ever read the screen of a Dynix terminal while it was scanning books to return them, but if it does echo the title and the librarian notices that the title does not match the cover, suspicion may arise. So be careful, and try to only borrow books with duplicates or similar titles.