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,” said Janet Woodbridge, chief librarian and CEO of the Essex County Libraries.
“You can’t recover books.” 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 investigating. Police have 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 or 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.