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Library Philosophy and Practice 2010

ISSN 1522-0222

Collection Security Issues in Malaysian Academic Libraries: An Exploratory Survey

Abass Atiku Maidabino

Under the Supervision of
Prof. Dr. Zainab Awang Ngah
Faculty of Computer Science and Information Technology
University of Malaya, Malaysia

 

Introduction

Libraries must be safe from security threats and vulnerability. University library collections are broad and varied. University libraries support the educational community through access to the collections. Borrowing privileges is an important means of giving access to library collections for personal, educational, and socio-economic advancement. Gelfand (2005) calls the library, “the only centralized location where new and emerging information technologies can be combined with knowledge resources in a user-focused, services-rich environment that supports today's social and educational patterns of learning, teaching and research.” Library services can only be achieved through the availability of library collections. Anunobi and Okoye (2008) state that, “academic libraries are faced with hybrid challenges of managing resources and are challenged to acquire the necessary skills.” One challenge is the issue of collection security for print and non-print resources.

Chaney and MacDougall (1994) state that, “collections are very vulnerable to abuse of one sort or another and library managers need to keep this characteristic well to the forefront of the library.” Ensuring effective use, longevity, and accessibility makes an effective program of collection security necessary. This program must include assessment of collection security issues and the measures use in curbing security breaches. This study explores collection security issues and measures used or adopted by the Malaysian university libraries to curb security breaches. Oyewusi and Oyeboade (2009) discuss the importance of access to collections in supporting the mission of the university. The researchers view the importance of good collections as a pointer to the need for safety and security for those collections.

Collection security refers to a process designed to protect library collections against un-authorized removal or loss. This involves protecting resources against disasters as well as thieves or intruders (Ajegbomogun, 2004). Information security governance is the manner in which information security is deployed (Da Veiga and Eloff (2007). Collection security management in libraries can be conceptualized to mean the overall manner in which collection security policies, programs, procedures, or measures are deployed to mitigate risk and ensure access.

Literature Review

The issue of collection security is of growing concern to university libraries and librarians. As a consequence, there is a vast literature on a range of problems concerning collection security in university libraries. Ugah (2007) considers collection security breaches as formidable obstacles to information access and use. Such acts are serious problems that can result in user dissatisfaction. He identifies major security issues in libraries to include: theft and mutilation; vandalism; damages and disaster; over borrowing or delinquent borrowers; and purposefully displacing arrangement of materials.

Book theft is a major security issue in libraries, particularly in academic libraries, with special collections being the most targeted materials, (Bello, 1998; Olorunsola, 1981). A study conducted by Olorunsola (1987) on academic library security discovered a relationship between high rates of security problems and the growth of the university. Not all thefts are committed by patrons. Some library staff take materials from the library without checking them out. This kind of theft, according to Lorenzen (1996), is one of the hardest to prevent, since library employees know how to defeat the security system. Ewing (1994) describes theft as only one type of collection security breach. Others include non-return of items by borrowers, vandalism, and stock destruction.

Bello (1998) conducted a study on theft and mutilation in technological university libraries in Nigeria, revealing that there is a lack of security in university libraries. Users resorted to delinquent behavior because demand outstripped the supply of library material. This results in competition for resources, which invariably tempts users to steal, mutilate, or engage in illegal borrowing.

Mutilation is the defacement or damage of library materials. Mutilation of academic library collections has been reported by many researchers (Ajegbomogun 2003; Bello 1998; Lorenzen 1996). Mutilation or vandalism occurs when users knowingly tear, mark, or otherwise damage or destroy materials, (Quincy Public Library, n.d). Lorenzen (1996), observes that collection mutilation takes many forms, ranging from underlining and highlighting text, tearing and or removing pages, and tampering with the content. Lorenzen identifies several causes for mutilation, including:

  • Students' dissatisfaction or unfamiliarity with library services
  • A lack of knowledge of replacement costs and time
  • A lack of concern for the needs of others
  • Few students think of library mutilation and theft as a crime.

Disruptive behavior is another security issue in libraries. A number of studies (Lorenzen, 1996; Momodu, 2002; Ajegbomogun, 2004) acknowledge that disruptive or criminal behavior can cause security problems in the library. Difficult patrons include those who are intoxicated or using drugs, mentally disturbed, and some juvenile users. Momodu (2002) asserts that libraries have faced varying degrees of delinquency in the use of their resources. The extent of this problem varies from one library to another, but seems to be universal.

The literature on collection security shows that security breaches often happen when the library premises are left unsecured. Oder (2004) maintains that security measures such as supervision, patrolling, and surveillance are lacking in libraries and keys are kept unsecured, if not in plain sight of the users. Thomas (2000) notes that the major challenge for new or renovated space is to incorporate flexibility while providing a safe and secure library environment. Non-return of library materials is a threat to the effective use of resources. Udoumoh and Okoro (2007) suggest that libraries create policies to ensure library resources are used effectively.

Disasters are a security issue that threaten library collections. Aziagba and Edet (2008) identify disasters as natural and man-made. We have little or no control over natural disasters, which come usually as a result of flood, landslides, earthquake, storm, cyclone, or hurricane. All of these have been experienced by universities in different countries.Flood and water damage are particularly threatening to library collections. Shuman (1999) describes flooding as abnormally high water flow, and it is generally conceded to be the most destructive and costly natural disaster libraries can experience. According to Evans, et al. (1998), disasters can destroy thousands of volumes within a short time. Insect infestation, environmental factors, and human cause constitute a serious security threat and may have devastating consequences. There is a need for constant security measures, such as vigilant staff and user education, to handle security threats cause by this type of disaster. Brown (2007) suggests coordinated policies to address all these threats.

Nkiko and Yusuf (2008) observe that information is an essential part of a nation's resources and access to it a basic human right. Information is not only a national resource but also a medium for social communication. With declining budgets and higher subscription cost, it is becoming difficult to meet the demands of library users (Thanuskodi 2009). Libraries should therefore ensure the security and safety of their collections.

These problems indicate the need to determine the current state of collection security and in academic libraries. Library and information managers must have a clear vision and focus on the contemporary reality of security breaches in university libraries, especially those targeting the collections. This is one of the many things librarians should concern themselves with, if they are to successfully manage a flourishing and efficient library.

Research Methodology

This is an exploratory study, with the following objectives:

  • To determine the existence of a security policy in the selected libraries
  • To find out the types of collection security breaches as perceived by respondents
  • To identify in general the types of collections which are more vulnerable to security breaches
  • To find out the measures the library used to reduce and address security breaches in libraries.

The findings from this stage of the research will help frame the design of the final questionnaire for wider distribution. The survey technique was employed using a questionnaire to collect data on collection security incidences. The questionnaire was distributed personally by the researcher to the four university libraries of the Klang valley, Malaysia. The libraries were chosen for the following reasons

  • All the libraries are in the Klang Valley and in this urban environment setting the extent of security issues faced is assumed to be similar
  • All are established academic libraries, which have been in existence for more than 10 years.

A questionnaire was distributed to the staff of the university libraries. The questionnaire sought to obtain data on collection security issues and measure in the libraries. The distribution was done personally by the researcher which enables him to clarify certain issues of ambiguity with the respondents. The four university Libraries used for the study are:

  • University Putra Malaysia (UPM)
  • University Kebansaar Malaysia (UKM)
  • University of Technology Malaysia (UiTM)
  • International Islamic University Malaysia (IIUM)

A total of 120 questionnaires were randomly distributed, with each library given thirty. A total of sixty (60) were completed and returned, making a 50 percent response rate.

Data Analysis and Discussion

Demographics

There are more female respondents, comprising 82 percent (40) of total respondents (Table 1). More responses were obtained from UPM (42 percent), followed by IIUM, UKM, and UiTM.

Table 1: Response Rate by Gender and Institutional Distribution

University library Female Male Total Percentage ( percent)
IIUM 13 2 15 25
UiTM 5 1 6 10
UKM 12 2 14 23
UPM 19 6 25 42
TOTAL 49 11 60 100

Information about the Libraries

All the libraries have been established for more than 10 years and have varying collection sizes (Table 2). It is assumed that the libraries have adopted some measures regarding collection security.

Table 2: Information about the Libraries

Name of the Library Year founded Staff population User population Size of the collection
UPM 1971 165-200 23,000 516,982
UKM 1970 150-200 909,466

1,509,787

500,000-above
UiTM PTARWANI 1972 180-200 909,000-1,000,000 600,500
IIUM 1983 150-200 14000-20,000 100-800,000

The Existence of a Security Policy

The nature of the collection security policy adopted by Malaysian university libraries is indicated in Table 3. All the four libraries revealed that there is a written collection security policy used for collection security management. The policies mainly deal with eating, drinking, and improper use of collection, furniture, and equipments, as well as misuse of computer and other library facilities.

Table 3: Collection Security Policies

Nature of the policy Agree ( percent) Disagree ( percent) I don't know ( percent)
Written collection security policy 53 (88 percent) 4 (7 percent) 3 (5 percent)
Not written policy 6 (10 percent) 17 (28 percent) 12 (20 percent)
No security policy at all 1 (2 percent) 24 (40 percent) 10 (16 percent)

A written collection security policy is a clear indication of management support for efforts to properly protect the collection. Research (Cronin 1980; Brown 2007) has indicated the need for a written or documented policy. A collection security policy, according to Cronin (1980), is a “pre-requisite for handling collection security problems effectively and its practices should be supported with sound implementation.” Such policies are very important in the governance or management of collection security issues in libraries. Cronin (1980) further stresses the need for evaluation of the policy and that library staff or committee members could become involved in formulating the policy or evaluating its usefulness.

Types of Collection Security Breaches in Libraries

Respondents were asked to indicate the types of security breaches they know of. There is agreement on the types of security breaches that frequently occur in academic libraries (Table 4). Theft and non-return of library materials are the main collection security breaches in the Malaysian university libraries. This is indicated by 90 percent (54) of the respondents in the libraries studied. This is closely followed by tearing of pages and torn book spine collection as indicated by 82 percent (49) of respondents respectively. Other security breaches include borrowing books for friends and family members; staining of book pages; tearing and yellowing of books; and insects or worms attacks on books. Writing on or in books and purposely mis-shelving by users constitutes another form of collection security breach.

Table 4: Types of Collection Security Breaches

S/N Security breaches or issues in the libraries Agree ( percent) Disagree ( percent) I don't know ( percent)
1 Book theft 54 (90 percent) 2 (3 percent) 4 (7 percent)
2 Non return of library materials 54 (90 percent) 6 (10 percent) -
3 Tearing pages 49 (82 percent) 11 (18 percent) -
4 Torn book spine 49 (82 percent) 10(16 percent) 1 (2 percent)
5 Book mutilation 46 (77 percent) 12 (20 percent) 2 (3 percent)
6 Using someone else ID to borrow 46 (77 percent) 7 (12 percent) 7 (12 percent)
7 Barrowing books for friends and or family members 45 (75 percent) 8 (13 percent) 7 (12 percent)
8 Book pages are stain, torn or yellow 45 (75 percent) 13 (22 percent) 2 (3 percent)
9 Books attacked by insects or worms 42 (70 percent) 17 (28 percent) 1 (2 percent)
10 Writing on or in books 41 (68 percent) 13 (22 percent) 6 (10 percent)
11 Purposely mis-shelving 40 (67 percent) 12 (20 percent) 8 (13 percent)

The findings of this study confirmed the literature on collection security breaches in university libraries. Chaney and MacDougall (1994), Lowry and Goetsch (2001), and Holt (2007) all stress the need to have an urgent concern about library collection security.

Collection which are Vulnerable to Security Breaches

Print materials are more vulnerable to security breaches, indicated by 87 percent (52) of the respondents..

Table 5: Collections which are Vulnerable to Security Breaches.

S/N Type of collection Agree ( percent) Disagree ( percent)
1 Print materials in general 52 (87 percent) 8 (13 percent)
2 Periodical collections 44 (73 percent) 16 (27 percent)
3 Reference collections 44 (73 percent) 16 (27 percent)
4 Reserve collections 43 (72 percent) 17 (28 percent)
5 Non-pint resources 37 (62 percent) 23 (38 percent)

Among the print resources, periodicals and reference collections shared the highest rate of security breaches. This is similar to the findings of Bello (1998) and Ajegbomogun (2004).

Reducing Security Breaches

TABLE 6 Measures Used to Reduce and Address Security Breaches in Libraries

S/N Security measures used to reduce breaches Agree ( percent Disagree ( percent) I don't know ( percent)
1 Electronic security system such as use of alarm and surveillance cameras 55 (92 percent) 5 (8 percent) Nil
2 Manual security approach such as: monitoring users at the circulation desk 52 (87 percent) 8 (13 percent) Nil
3 The use of security guards 46 (77 percent) 14 (23 percent) Nil
4 Checking users ID card before they are allowed access to the library. 50 (83 percent) 10 (17 percent) Nil

Table 6 above indicates the measures used to reduce and address security breaches. The libraries surveyed use a combination of measures. The majority (92 percent, 55) believe that electronic security systems such as alarms, surveillance cameras, etc., can help address security breaches. The libraries use approaches such as monitoring users at the circulation desk, checking identity cards allowing access, and using security guards (77 percent, 46). The application of information and communication technology in libraries would increase collection security. Younis (2002) indicates that librarians have realized that information technology can enhance collection security. Libraries today employ technology to ensure the security and safety of collections. Shahid (2005) describes how RFID (Radio Frequency Identification) allows an item to be tracked and communicated with by radio waves.

Challenges to Collection Security Management

Respondents used the open-ended section of the questionnaire to identify challenges to security. Some identified system failure or downtime and lack of technical support as the main challenges. Other challenges identified include the lack of awareness of the cost implication or effect of collection security breaches by users of the library.

Recommendation and Conclusion

The need for staff and user awareness is very important for collection security. Staff and users should have adequate knowledge of the importance of securing library collections. The lack of awareness may result in a purposeful or unintentional breach of collection security. Ives (1996) believes that library staff and patrons remain the greatest potential threat to collection security.

The need for increased security on the library premises through supervision, patrolling, and surveillance is evident. Libraries must to be designed in such a way that collection security is taken into account. Collection security issues should not be left to an individual staff member's judgment. Policies and procedures should be established and implemented. Such policies should be written and communicated to both staff and users. Written collection security policies are available in a majority of the libraries surveyed. This is in line with recommendations of many researchers who stressed the importance of policies in ensuring effective library services.

The findings of this study are in line with many studies on collection security breaches (Ajegbomogun 2003; Bello 1998; Holt; 2007; Lorenzen 1996). This study further reveals the problem of overdue of materials in Malaysian university libraries. This is in line with the findings of Udoumoh and Okoro (2007). Furthermore, the study reveals that, while collection security breaches are occurring in Malaysian university libraries, and attempts are being made to them, the extent of the problem is relatively unknown, because few libraries systematically document incidents. This situation indicates the existence of a problem that needs further investigation.

References

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