400 urine-stained library books destroyed in Leamington
By Kamila Hinkson, Toronto Star, December 11, 2012
The pages of books often yellow with age, but almost 400 volumes at a southwestern Ontario library have yellowed before their time.
For the past three weeks, staff at an Essex County Library branch in Leamington have been discovering urine-doused books on their shelves. The latest incident was Monday, and each discovery reveals about 30 to 90 damaged books.
The perpetrator, who has yet to be caught, has caused about $5,000 in damage.
“As soon as they’ve been touched with a biohazard . . . we would not circulate them to the public. They’re destroyed. We can’t take the chance that you’d be . . . you know, you can’t recover books,” said Janet Woodbridge, chief librarian and CEO of the Essex County Libraries.
Woodbridge noted the perpetrator doesn’t seem to be targeting a specific genre or author.
Instead, the focus is on not getting caught — the books being soiled are in areas not easily visible to library staff.
The library, which houses approximately 35,000 items, features high stacks of books that lend themselves to decreased sight lines in the building.
The first discovery occurred when a librarian went to set aside a book for a customer and noticed there was urine on the book. An inspection of the area showed three other shelves of books had urine on them as well.
That’s when they notified the Ontario Provincial Police, which is currently investigating the case.
The OPP has been interviewing people at the library as part of the probe, but at this point there is no theory as to how many people are involved and what their motive may be.
“They are certainly exploring all avenues to catch this person,” said Const. Stephanie Moniz with the Essex County OPP.
Moniz noted it seems most likely that the culprit is urinating on the books, as opposed to dousing the books with urine, but all possibilities are being considered.
Woodbridge emphasized that instances of vandalism in the county libraries are few and far between.
The library is also well-attended, she said, which adds to the mystery.
The staff patrol the library every 10 to 15 minutes and the building will be getting cameras in the coming week.
Library staff and patrons are being provided with gloves to peruse the stacks.
“We’re doing all we can to try to alleviate (the chances of it) . . . continuing to happen,” Woodbridge said.
We know that there are those among us who find reading, writing and the books used for those purposes, repellant. There are novels dedicated to book-burning (Fahrenheit 451, for example) and there are, infrequently to be sure, occasions when books have undergone considered public "stress" sometimes because those inflicting the stress consider specific books to be "filth" or too dangerous in their viewpoint, or merely sacreligious. Some political parties in some countries have desecrated books as part of their propaganda warfare.
In this case, which can only be characterized as disgusting, infantile and criminal, whether or not anyone is ever found, charged and convicted with any crime, 'the cat-and-mouse' chase may be another of the too many vulgar incidents that stain contemporary culture. Last week we watched a different kind of prank perpetrated by a couple of Aussie radio show hosts resulting in the suicide of a kind, compassionate and tragically gullible nurse who took their prank call inquiring about the medical condition of the Duchess of Cambridge.
This week, some 400 books have been destroyed through a disgusting act of contamination with some human or animal urine, in Leamington, Ontario, a neighbour to Windsor and Detroit Michigan.
While this likely constitutes some form of vandalism, from a legal perspective, from a literary perspective it represents the worst fears of the literary community. Books have contained, revealed, disclosed, augmented, disseminated and provoked ideas, narratives, discussion, insight, human connection, community and political, economic, historic, scientific, literary, religious, philosophic, poetic and comedic thought and discourse among young and old
on every continent, culture and period in history since the beginning of type and time as we know it.
For an individual, or worse still, a group of indivduals to take the kind of actions reported by the Toronto Star, in the story above makes this scribe quite literally, and metaphorically "sick" in heart, in stomach, in mind and in spirit.
When our books and our libraries are "treated" in this manner, we have all failed, not merely the parents of these perpetrators, not merely the town in which they live, nor the school they attend, nor the region and province of their residence.
And it will take a concerted effort from each of us, individually and collectively, in whatever paths we travel and with whomever we meet, to curtail this kind of behavior and the attitudes and beliefs and perceptions that provoked it.