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Students trust one another - library warnings not heeded

People are leaving their expensive electronics - with no owner in sight. Honest campus culture? Don't bet on it, warns librarian

We’ve all seen them – signs heeding students to watch over their belongings in libraries and other academic buildings, sometimes with the reminder that thieves ”only need a few seconds” to nab your laptop, purse, etc.

Two years ago a series of mystery thefts at the social sciences library at Gothersgade 140 set off a theft scare.

A walk through a number of libraries by this University Post reporter showed a number of apparently unattended laptops. The safety-in-numbers rationale could be one explanation for the phenomenon. Library users are supplementing their sense of security by asking nearby strangers to keep an eye on their things when they’re gone.

Who can you trust?

But even this method is at your own risk warns deputy faculty librarian Marianne Grützmeier of the Frederiksberg campus. The ubiquitous warnings against thieves are still sound advice, especially on a large campus with open facilities, she says.

”I wouldn’t advise this procedure [of asking your neighbour to watch your stuff, ed]. The neighbour is probably concentrated on her own studies and couldn’t be held responsible, if anything happens.”

”My advice to students is to never leave any valuables behind, not even for a few moments. The libraries provide lockers, which can be used if you want to go to lunch without bringing your valuable stuff.”

Thefts may be, actually, rare

Despite a trend of low vigilance, Ms. Grützmeier has only heard of three cases of theft from the LIFE campus library users in the past six years, with the items taken ranging from a coat to a computer without backed-up files.

The University Post has so far not been able to acquire comprehensive theft data.

But the loss of crucial items warrants a ”better safe than sorry” approach, according to Grützmeier. She acknowledges that the signs seem to go ignored, but occasionally rumours of thieves will heighten security. If theft does occur, she advises students both go to the police and inform library staff of the incident.

Students should be comfortable in the library, but to a point. ”The library is a public place,” says Grützmeier, ”think of it as a bench in the park and keep an eye on your belongings.”

If there are enough witnesses…

So why doesn’t anyone seem to listen? Prime study spots are reserved by students’ belongings, this reporter observed, but without an owner in sight. Whether out on a quick bathroom break or taking a leisurely lunch, many students feel comfortable leaving their things behind.

Andrea, a University of Copenhagen student, explains:

”I don’t worry about books, my valuables I watch a bit more. But if there’s a lot of people around, I assume there are enough witnesses that no one will steal my stuff.”

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