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Librarians pinpoint bandit in mystery of missing patterns

Overheard at a knitters gathering in Minneapolis: "The library catalog said the books were checked in, but they were not on the shelf. And I know how to use the Dewey Decimal system! Maybe the librarians are hiding them.

Confessions of a knitting librarian: "Well, actually, we were."

At some Hennepin County library locations, you'll have to talk to a librarian to get your hands on the latest knitting books. Why are they holding these tomes hostage when knitting is enjoying such a rebirth of cool?

Apparently the pattern books need protection from a wool-minded slasher.

90-something books vandalized
Last fall, librarians at the St. Louis Park, Ridgedale and Golden Valley branches noticed dozens of knitting books coming back with pages missing. One of the St. Louis Park librarians also worked at the Burnhaven library in Dakota County, and observed the same phenomenon at that library system. An estimated 90 books were vandalized, and an investigation was launched.

Vandals and fools should never underestimate the intelligence of people who work surrounded by books, and it wasn't long before librarians tracked down "an older gentleman" who was checking out massive numbers of knitting books and magazines from a far-flung array of libraries. He was often the first patron to check out a brand-new volume, making it easy to eliminate other suspects.

Once the avenging librarians pinpointed their suspect, they wielded their most shaming weapon: a massive load of library fines. The Dakota and Hennepin systems each levied approximately $400 in fines against the man and his wife, and banned the couple from the library for a year.

And that's when the stranger side of human nature presented itself. The man first denied the charges, blaming other patrons. Then he blamed librarians for the damaged brand-new books. And then he blamed his wife. He finally petitioned Hennepin County library commissioner Gail Dorfman for mercy.

Accused vandal needles librarians
"Oh, they felt very wronged," said Dorfman. "I worked with them, because they are regular users of the library and longstanding good citizens. We removed the fines (Dakota County did not), and perhaps the mystery of the knitting needle caper has been solved. It hasn't happened again.

"This was the biggest issue that we had, before the library merger," said Dorfman, laughing. "In this business of public service, things come up that you couldn't anticipate in your wildest dreams."

Vandalism of library material isn't uncommon, but when someone has a special interest, it catches the attention of librarians. "A few years ago, a person hit all the MELSA (Metropolitan Library Service Agency) libraries, and stole a huge number of materials," said Roseanne Bryne, deputy director of the Dakota County libraries. "He was particularly interested in fish and aquariums. Librarians noticed the theme, and they began comparing notes with other libraries. The authorities raided his home, and found boxes and boxes of materials."

Byrne says "99 percent" of patrons use the library responsibly. "People do love and appreciate their libraries, and this is extremely rare behavior. And most knitters are refined, gentle people who wouldn't do anything like this."

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