An exhibit in KU's Watson Library illustrates the range of damage borrowers inflict on library materials.
Brian Baird could write a tome on library patrons' bizarre techniques of torturing books.
"It's unusual," said Baird, staring at a book charred in a fire. "You don't see much burn damage."
Baird, recently hired as Kansas University's first preservation librarian, was standing over a glass case in Watson Library containing an exhibit, "Killing Us Softly: Abusive Use of Library Materials."
This exhibit showcases the KU library system's hard-core evidence of neglect, carelessness, accidents and vandalism.
"Most of the damage is not malicious," Baird said. "It's just the result of people not thinking."
That explanation would encompass the borrower who let a dog chew the pages of a book about the Nazi extermination of prisoners.
It also would cover the person who checked out an art book that included a color reproduction of the Picasso canvass "Weeping Woman." The page was marred by paint splatterings and fingerprint smudges.
It would embody the library visitor who cut out nude photographs from a magazine. And the patron who repaired a tear with cellophane tape, which turns yellow with age and damages paper.
Watson librarian Kent Miller, who helped assemble the exhibit, said the goal was to encourage patrons to respect all library materials at all times.
"We don't care if they took a bath with it intentionally or accidentally," he said. "There's no difference in terms of the cost of replacing it."
William Crowe, dean of KU libraries, said no study had been conducted at the university to determine the extent of library material damage or the cost of that destruction to the Kansas taxpayer.
However, a project at Ohio State University indicated 11 percent of that university's library volumes on public shelves had sustained damage. An assessment of KU libraries likely would be similar, Crowe said.
He said part of the problem was that library patrons viewed items in a library as objects not intended for preservation.
"So much in our society is thought of as consumable," he said.
If the library can identify the person responsible for damage or destruction of a book, he or she must pay restoration or replacement costs.
Librarians don't always catch perpetrators. With the average cost of a library book at $50, the bill for unsolved cases must be absorbed by the library.
"We have custodial responsibility," Crowe said. "We keep things in trust. We want them to be used, but we want them to be used appropriately so they are not used up -- consumed."