Austin book thief targeting ‘Little Free Libraries’

Little Free Libraries being swiped clean of the books. (KXAN Photo/Alicia Inns)
Little Free Libraries being swiped clean of the books. (KXAN Photo/Alicia Inns)

AUSTIN (KXAN) — Neighbors around Austin say a book thief is targeting their Little Free Libraries, clearing the shelves and leaving it empty for the next bookworm who passes by.

Matthew Elsass built his Little Free Library three years ago at his home off Ridgelea Drive in North Austin.

“We love reading. We have a 16-month-old, my wife has written a book. We’re book people,” Elsass said.

A few weeks ago, Elsass was reading his neighborhood NextDoor website and noticed some people were posting about their libraries being cleared out by the mystery book bandit.

“I thought, well if it happened right across the street, and it’s happening in this whole neighborhood, that’s what gave me the idea. So I put a camera up in the tree and it actually caught the guy doing it,” Elsass said.

His surveillance video shows a man pull up in a white pick-up truck and take nearly every book in his little library.

The neighbors say the man is then reselling the titles to local bookstores, hoping to make a quick dollar or two.

“We’ve been strongly advising them to put stamps in their little free library books and then we can look out for them here at Half Price Books in Austin and not buy anything that has those little free library stamps,” said Drew Miller, store manager at Half Price Books off North Lamar Boulevard.

Austin police say while there is an active complaint, but there’s not much the department can do, simply because the books are free.

One neighbor told us the areas this thief is targeting include North Austin, Cedar Park, Northwest Hills, Bouldin, Barton Hills, Allandale, and Oakmont Heights.

Neighbors like Elsass say they hope the moral of this story is: the bad guy never wins in the end.

“We’re just hoping he kind of quits,” he said.

The vehicle reported in several incidents is a full size silver Chevrolet pick up truck (2001) model C/K 1500, license plate # GSW9196.  The description of the driver: Middle-aged African-American male, over 6 feet tall.

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