On Stealing Literature from the University of Oslo Library

  • Harry Peter Sanderson

When attempting to steal literature from the University of Oslo Library, there are a few things to be considered.

First, and most obviously, the text in question. There is no point in stealing a watery paperback that could be found easily in another library or bookstore. The chosen work should be something rare and prestigious, that can itself only be procured by the authority of a library institution. It should be aged, well-bound, and classical; a Moby Dick of theft-commodity. Moby Dick itself might be a choice, except for that the work is disappointingly singular. Considering the risk involved in a theft, there’s no reason not to make an attempt on a more expansive reward.

A series of older books is both a more ambitious and deserving goal. Obtaining all six volumes of the ed. Milman 1782 The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire or even all seven original prints of The Chronicles of Narnia is spatially preferable to any single novel. Furthermore, aboriginal prints of literary cycles are often unique to well-stocked libraries- complete, ordered first editions are nearly impossible to locate in the open market. The library, as part of an academic institution, has easier means of purchasing whole, authentic series, and this is therefore where you should place your attention.

Once you have decided upon a specific set, and before any physical action, you must prepare cognitively for the theft. You must scour your moral constitution thoroughly in order decide if this is something you can certainly ‘do.’ Consider your guilt at deceiving a bright-eyed Undergraduate searching for vol. 3 of Ruskin’s Lives of the Modern Painters, only to find the entire series absent from the shelf. Ask yourself: Should the greed of one person deprive the rest of the wider reading public from borrowing and appreciating a text?

And yet you may palliate any pervading guilt by acknowledging the un-realism of the library as a democratic Utopia. The unbridled accessibility of the library leaves the average working man open and able to treat the books poorly, smudging their covers, bending their corners and tearing their pages. The Library is romanticised as an idyll of common learning; it is in reality a filthy, ungoverned dog-pound for books, from which you have the opportunity to rescue the series in question.

Further, if you can consider the gradual digitalisation of all literature, it is reasonable to assume the work you intend to steal is available on the Internet. By stealing the physical books, then, you aren’t depriving any others the opportunity to consume them. Most can continue learning via cyber-literary interface with relatively little disturbance. Fall into your intuitions of singularity; you can be allowed to rejoice in the ownership of physical, authentic first-editions.

If someone were to argue that the physicality of the book as an object were still important in a library, you could calmly and finally refute that in the case of the disappearance of a popular series, the library would almost certainly take action to replace the work in its entirety. This isn’t some backwater penny dreadful, after all, but a fine set of books which are of considerable note to the academic foundation.

But then there is ethical reciprocity- the parable of each man taking only one pebble off a mountain, resulting in disintegration. To advocate thievery, even only semioccasionally, is to set unjust precedence and affirm theft to the Universe. After you have taken your series, and it has been replaced by the library, another resourceful young person might take the very same action. And you could not judge them – in a sense they were you.

The library staff would probably find it curious that two cases of similar theft had gone on, and regretfully resolve to replace the collection once more. But after the third, or the fourth time? A library only has a finite amount of capital to spend in the refurbishment of stolen stocks. Eventually, the librarian would throw up their hands and declare that with the current trend of literary larceny, Ruskin was simply untenable. There would be some disgruntlement among the academic advisory board, and concern expressed for the value and representation of art-historical discourses, but on balance the matter would probably fade from importance, and the absence would stand. Is this a fair situation to create?

These moral concerns must ultimately be dealt with by the individual. Mostly they will either be excused, or disregarded entirely. It isn’t the most proper thing to do, but the net indulgent benefit can be embellished so as to overcome any guilt or responsibility. The effect on the ethical self is a more complex issue, but can be dismissed by way of moral relativism, as in considering yourself one of a large number of imperfect people who are, after all, ‘only human.’ Your faults are many – but then whose faults are few?

This considered, it’s time to work out the literal method of exporting the book from the library without detection. There are a few obvious options. You could toss the book out of a window, or lower it to the ground using a string. Each of these requires a great deal of effort and risk, however, and will ultimately increase the chance of apprehension.

You could always assume the identity of another student and borrow the books through official channels, then never return them. This would require you to falsely obtain a stranger’s student card, thus committing an extra, preliminary theft. It would mean implicating an unknowing, innocent person in an ordeal with which they would not otherwise be involved. This further problematises your moral considerations, and is on balance not worth the effort.

The easiest method is more simple and less risky. Turn to the inside back-cover of each book and you will find an inconspicuous sensor – a white sticker around the size of a playing card, nestled into the top right corner of the book. All you need to do is rub each sticker for a minute and a half with eucalyptus oil, then carefully slide a pen-knife underneath it, and peel off. Once the sticker is removed, a book can be taken through the sensors in the central exit without any detection. You can verify this to be true by running a field test with a smaller paperback of worthless Australian poems. It works, of course.

After the stickers are removed from each book in the main collection, ensure you are not being observed, and load them in their entirety into a large duffel bag you have brought with you. It is neither forbidden nor uncommon for students to walk through the library with large gym bags, so this will go unnoticed. Once the books are entombed, compose yourself. Stand up straight, walk at your normal pace, and resist on your face a look of furtive shame. Go easily through the sparkling sensors and out into the high-ceilinged entrance hall.

What is left, except to allow yourself to be seized by guilt, to begin to tear up, and to turn yourself in? And that you cannot do.

Instead go home, on foot, and arrange the series in its given order by your windowsill. These volumes are the fruit of your labor; you will eat them, and prosperity will be yours.

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