Rare books to get tighter security

Despite the existence of social media and the internet, libraries are having to take extraordinary measures to protect valuable books.

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Textbooks, dictionaries, popular fiction and biographies are among the types of books most commonly stolen from libraries across south Africa, as a result, rare books are being placed under heavy security.

The library at Unisa in Pretoria has an estimated 52000 books that are considered rare, unique or out of print.

They include 3790 items that are part of Unisa's collection of books considered at high risk of being stolen. To read them, library users are taken to a special reading room that is equipped with three CCTV cameras.

The manager of the Unisa archives and special collections, Anri van der Westhuizen, says: "Law books, as well as those by former presidents Nelson Mandela and Thabo Mbeki, as well as Steve Biko, are the most popular for theft at the library."

A spokesman for Johannesburg library and information services, Nobunto Mpendulo, says a book-detection system and cameras were installed in the city's main public library to curb book theft and Guards would look after the library's collection of rare books.

The deputy librarian at Wits University, Piaki Muswazi, says the institution has gone to extraordinary lengths to protect its valuable books "as best we can so that current and future generations can benefit from these collections".

Wits African literature professor Isabel Hofmeyr, whose article on book theft in South Africa was published recently, says there are two types of theft of books - one for resale, the other for reading.

The latter category shows that there is a tradition of "passionate" reading in South Africa, says Hofmeyr.

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