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Woman nabbed for Washington County library book thefts

An alleged book thief's reign came to an end Tuesday in Woodbury.

The woman, whose name was not released since she was not arrested, had been sought by authorities for numerous thefts from Twin Cities libraries, said Randy Gustafson, public information officer for the Ramsey County Sheriff's Office.

She was apprehended by Woodbury police and Ramsey County deputies at R.H. Stafford Library after staff there recognized her from an alert that had been distributed to libraries, Gustafson said.

He said Ramsey County investigators suspect the woman was selling the stolen books to used bookstores.

Washington County Library Director Pat Conley said she was made aware of metro-area book thieves at an April 13 conference. She said Ramsey County officials put out the word that libraries there had been hit by a group of people targeting medical reference books for resale.

Conley said she notified Washington County library staff as well as Sheriff Bill Hutton anticipating "we might be next."

She also forwarded branch staff the names given to other libraries that had been hit.

So when a woman with a name from the list arrived at the Oakdale library requesting a library card Tuesday morning, staff there turned her away since she could not produce identification proving Washington County residency. Conley said the woman left, saying she would get a Washington County library card elsewhere.

Oakdale library workers alerted their Woodbury counterparts, who went into action. Conley said that meant staff being positioned in the stacks for lookout.

"It's foolish for thieves to think we don't look for these things," she said.

At 10:54 a.m., the woman arrived at the Stafford branch and requested a library card. Since her name had been flagged, she was told to go to Conley's basement office - a meeting that Conley said was brief.

"She left in a huff," she said. "And in the intervening time, the police had arrived."

Police were waiting for her at the top of the stairs.

"Just like out of a Raymond Chandler novel," Conley said, referring to the late writer known for detective novels.

Gustafson said the woman was suspected in thefts from libraries in Ramsey, Hennepin, Anoka and Carver counties.

It was not clear, Gustafson said, how long the alleged activity had been occurring. He said it was also not clear how many books connected to the woman had been reported missing.

The case is being handled by Ramsey County investigators.

Gustafson said library materials were recovered. Investigators now have the challenging task of sorting through those and more materials in an effort to determine the libraries from which they came.

"We're in the process of doing that investigation," Gustafson said.

Conley said no Washington County libraries were hit by the suspects, but that Ramsey County officials said most of their libraries' medical books had been taken.

She said people sometimes forget the public investment in libraries; Washington County's collection is valued at $11 million, she said.

"We guard that collection very carefully," she said.

Medical books have a relatively high resale value, she noted, adding that university libraries have been regular targets.

"These folks can make a pretty penny, but luckily the systems of communications worked and hopefully these people will go away," Conley said.

Mike Longaecker

Mike Longaecker is the regional public safety reporter for RiverTown Multimedia. His coverage area spans St. Croix and Pierce counties. Longaecker served from 2011-2015 as editor of the Woodbury Bulletin. A University of Wisconsin-River Falls graduate, Longaecker previously reported for the Red Wing Republican Eagle and for the Forum Communications Minnesota Capitol Bureau. You can follow him on Twitter at @Longaecker

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