College textbooks are expensive, particularly in subject areas such as medicine, technology and science. That’s led to the creation of organized theft rings who steal the books from university libraries and resell them online.

The Walter E. Helmke Library at Indiana University - Purdue University Fort Wayne has lost the same collection of mostly nursing materials twice, Library Dean Cheryl Truesdell said.

The Helmke loss was a few thousand dollars, but the library at Indiana University - Purdue University Indianapolis has lost books valued “in the tens of thousands of dollars” said David Lewis, dean of the IUPUI library.

“It’s an organized group stealing in a fairly organized pattern,” Lewis said.

IUPUI campus police apprehended one individual believed to be in the process of taking books. The professionally dressed individual, who had no known connection to the campus, allegedly possessed a shopping list of the textbooks when taken into custody.

“It was clear that this group knows what texts are required at a college somewhere,” Lewis said.

It is believed the thieves sell the stolen books online at Amazon.com or elsewhere. When some of the books cost hundreds of dollars new, “even the resale can be quite lucrative,” Lewis said.

A medical-surgical nursing textbook listed new on Amazon.com for about $130, for example, is also listed as used by a variety of private sellers at prices ranging from $80 to $100.

Truesdell said police believe the thieves may work in teams. One goes in and finds the desired texts, and tips or shifts them slightly out of place so they are easy to spot. The second goes in and is able to more quickly locate the books and make off with them.

Helmke uses a system that buries security tags in the books, deep into the binding in random locations, but the thieves appear to be finding ways to get the books out without triggering alarms.

The Helmke Library will close Dec. 20 for a year-long renovation. Only library personnel will be allowed in the stacks during that time, which should put a halt to the thefts, Truesdell said.

IUPUI began noticing the missing books last summer, Lewis said. The thefts seemed to have slowed down after the fall semester began because there are more people around. But the full extent of the loss isn’t known.

“By and large, you don’t know something is missing until someone asks for it,” he said.

Both IUPUI and IPFW are looking at replacing stolen materials with electronic copies where possible.

The University of Saint Francis is not aware of any book thefts, Associate Vice President Trois Hart said. Purdue University spokesman Brian Zink said the West Lafayette campus police had received no reports of thefts from the school library there. Requests for information from Indiana University and and Ball State University were not immediately returned.

The Allen County Public Library has not experienced any significant losses, but “because we are huge, you get a little pilfering from time to time,” spokeswoman Cheryl Ferverda said.

The books in ACPL’s stacks are not that expensive, she added.

“If we have some book that is extremely costly, it’s not on the shelves, it’s in the vault, and anyone who wants to see it has to be accompanied by a librarian,” she said.

The materials in the library’s extensive genealogy collection have security tags that will trigger an alarm if they are carried out through the gate. Most of those materials also are available digitally, Ferverda said.

Two rural Angola residents were arrested this fall in connection with the theft of DVDs from the Carnegie Public Library of Steuben County. The items were reportedly pawned. Those thefts did not follow the same pattern as the IPFW and IUPUI thefts.

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