Chris Uggen's Blog: and I guess that was your accomplice in the wood chipper

Monday, February 11, 2008

and I guess that was your accomplice in the wood chipper

sometimes department chairs just gaze in wide wonder at the issues awaiting them on any given morning. i arrived today, for example, to find that someone had broken into the li'l glass bookcase showcasing "new releases" by our faculty.

dang, i really like that case. it is positioned outside some molasses-slow elevators, so it draws great attention to the many fine books written by our faculty. the thieves only made off with about a third of the monographs in the case, so i couldn't resist trying to suss out why they selected some books and left others behind.

part of me worried that the miscreants were students upset with book costs, but i'm pretty sure it was just kids. unlike the university of chicago, the university of pennsylvania, or other urban campuses i've visited, the minnversity maintains a light security presence. i often encounter small groups of males in their mid-teens walking the halls on sundays, sometimes just before i discover smashed-in vending machines or other mischief. i'd long assumed that bitter faculty members had been smashing the candy machines, but now i'm starting to put two and two together.

at least the miscreants broke the lock, rather than smashing the more-costly-to-replace glass case itself. a few mysteries remain:

1. why did they bother breaking into a locked case to steal books when there was a free shelf just five feet away, loaded with books that had greater resale value? the poor saps could've taken a free copy of earl babbie's bestselling methods book, for example, which would have brought a far greater return on their efforts than the more esoteric titles in the case. i think that the locked case probably signaled market value, so we might have been better off leaving our titles on an unlocked shelf and locking up some old telephone directories and 1974 software manuals instead.

2. how did they decide which books to steal? i was outraged (outraged, i tell you!) that they literally reached right past my book but stole both of hartmann's titles. the nerve! didn't they read the jackets? c'mon, which of us is out there advocating for the rights of convicted felons? i was getting pretty worked up about this until my research assistant reassured me that, of course, the thieves must have already purchased several copies of locked out: felon disenfranchisement and american democracy. aside from their anti-uggen bias, they didn't seem to choose hardcover over paperback, or qualitative over quantitative, or brand new over slightly older, or attractive cover art over less-attractive cover art. why didn't they just grab 'em all? my working theory involves a fargo-like dispute among the co-conspirators, so i wouldn't be surprised to discover, say, a severed human foot beneath our industrial paper shredder.

3. the replacement costs will be high for the department, but what is the street value of a handful of sociology books? wouldn't they have been better off breaking into the candy machines again?

4. it looks like i've got a decision to make. should we adopt the time-tested but lame method of stapling book jackets to a department bulletin board? or, should we stick to our guns, buy some new books, and bring in a serious security force?


At 10:01 AM, Blogger Woz said...

It's funny what small-time crooks will do because they think something may have value.

This past summer I was pondering the same thing when somebody stole my $40 generic car CD player. It couldn't have fetched more than $10 on the street or in a pawn shop, but due to their inexperience in removing them, it left me with a big-ass hole in my dash and no cupholders (which were attahced to the dash they stole).

In the end, I went with a junkyard am/fm missing most of its buttons and a wooden in-dash cupholder my old man made maybe the department can go with some older, slighlty used books and a new wooden security latch. I know someone who can make you one pretty cheap.

At 10:37 AM, Blogger Anomie said...

I am amused at the irony of leaving behind the book entitled "Locked Out."

Perhaps the thieves, too, had a sense of irony.

At 12:22 PM, Blogger newsocprof said...

perhaps the scary finger print on the cover acted as a powerful deterrent.

A few years ago someone stole my leather backpack out of my car (I loved it, I'd had it for five years and it was really old looking). Inside was nothing except the rules for parolees and the infractions that would land them back in prison in WI. I hoped this would cause them to return it (thinking I was a parole officer of something) but no such luck...

At 7:14 PM, Blogger christopher uggen said...

thanks for commiserating, friends.

i think you pay extra for wooden cupholders in upper-bracket jaguars these days, woz, so color me impressed.

At 10:16 PM, Blogger Travis Linnemann said...

I suggest a full on "broken windows" assault on the lawless halls of the Minnversity. Perhaps start by cracking down on those who loiter outside their advisor's offices, or push the elevator button more than once. I am certain this would be a prudent start to a return towards order.

At 11:08 AM, Blogger Jim Gibbon said...

This happened at the Princeton soc. dept. a couple years ago and I remember a few profs getting upset that their books hadn't been stolen.

The books weren't even locked up at the time. The chair decided to continue putting books on display, this time with a lock on the glass case. Sounds like that didn't stop your thieves, though.

At 9:22 AM, Blogger Charlieblue said...

You're over analyzing. February in Minnesota? C'mon. Books were chosen for theft based on heft. Resale value predicated on burn time. All those cold student apartments and freshman sink-habatchi's.

At 1:01 PM, Blogger Laura said...

Ha. As a university of minnesota security monitor, Im going to have to agree that a "more serious" security force may be necessary...we're kind of a joke.


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