U-M places security cameras in Hatcher and Shapiro libraries

Wednesday, September 4, 2019 - 4:08pm

Security cameras have been installed in all main libraries on campus, including Hatcher.

Security cameras have been installed in all main libraries on campus, including Hatcher. Buy this photo
Michael Bagazinski/Daily

The University of Michigan has installed security cameras in the main libraries on campus for the start of the fall semester. The additional safety measure is the result of a collaboration between the University Library and the Division of Public Safety and Security.

Though campus libraries are typically safe, crimes still occur, said Rebecca Dunkle, associate university librarian for library operations. 

“The libraries are generally very safe places, but we do have occasional groups of thefts,” Dunkle said. “Mostly when people leave their belongings unattended, but on rare occasions from library offices or labs when they are accidentally left unlocked. We hope the cameras will help prevent thieves from coming into the library at all and will help the Department of Public Safety identify perpetrators if a theft does occur.”

Dunkle explained the security cameras will only be placed in the Harlan Hatcher Graduate Library and the Shapiro Undergraduate Library, the two biggest library buildings on campus and the locations of most past thefts.

According to the University Library’s announcement, the cameras will only be installed in entrances, exits, elevator lobbies and stairwell landings. They will be carefully placed in order to protect the privacy of library goers. 

Despite the limited placement of the cameras, they will still be instrumental in helping DPSS solve reported crimes, DPSS deputy chief of police Melissa Overton wrote in an email to The Daily.

“Security cameras can be a useful tool used to identify those in the facilities if a crime has been committed and a suspect description or time frame of the crime has been identified,” Overton wrote.

Engineering junior Hadley Peterson had her wallet stolen at the Graduate Library last February. She said she briefly left her belongings alone in a cubicle in the stacks, then came back to find her wallet missing. Due to the secluded nature of the stacks, no one else saw the theft. 

“I was up in Hatcher on the fifth floor,” Peterson said. “It was the morning of one of my exams. I was studying, and I just kind of figured I could run to the bathroom real quick, and so I was only gone for a couple of minutes, and then when I came back, all my stuff, like my backpack, was opened up. Of course, no one saw anything.”

Peterson said she turned to look for the potential perpetrator and saw a tall man leaving with her blue wallet sticking out of his pocket, but he went down a side stairwell before she could confront him. 

She then called the police and tried to get it sorted out, but because there were no cameras at the time, not much could be done.

“I just called the police and I ended up talking to an officer,” Peterson said. “They weren’t able to really help much with the case because there wasn’t really much to do other than get a description, and it’s not really the sort of thing that will get resolved typically.” 

Peterson said the addition of the cameras might have helped her get her wallet back and feel more secure because DPSS could potentially use them to identify a face. 

Dunkle said the University Library is dedicated to student privacy, and the reason the cameras are placed strategically is to protect the students in their work. She said neither the University or DPSS will actively watch or check the security cameras, and they will only be used in the case of a criminal incident. 

“We do not want to know what people are looking at in the library, what subjects they are studying, what print or online resources they are looking at, who they are sitting with or generally anything else they are doing,” Dunkle said. “We are careful to install the cameras where they will record people coming and going in the stairwells and entrances but not record what they are looking at on a computer screen or checking out at a service desk.”

Peterson said she isn’t sure if she would appreciate more cameras in the main study areas of the library. She explained she prefers to have her computer activity private for security reasons, but could see the importance of cameras in terms of catching a thief.