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Reading plan goes off track
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It was an open invitation for freeloaders. A radical plan by Shanghai's metro Line 9 authorities to provide free books and magazines to commuters attracted not just book lovers but book thieves as well.

The novel plan to provide subway commuters with free reading material was launched on August 27. But six days later, metro authorities discovered that about 3,200 books were missing. This amounted to nearly half the books in the program.

Under the plan, commuters were allowed to pick up books or magazines of their choice at a station, read them on the way and return them on reaching their destination.

But many subway readers thought borrowers could be keepers. On average, about 500 books went missing every day, and many of those that were returned came back damaged, the Youth Daily reported.

Metro officials may consider canceling the book scheme if the losses mount.

"Passengers could be asked to register with the metro staff when they borrow books and magazines," said Sun Keqing, a metro service department manager. "But registering would be very inconvenient. Passengers would have to line up when they are in a hurry, and the workload for metro employees would increase tremendously."

Sun added that some of the more popular books and magazines could be removed from the program, as many best-sellers have disappeared within six days.

At the busy Qibao Road Station, a maximum 26 of the 120 publications are returned on a given day. The station director said they had more than 20 kinds of publications at the beginning of the program, but now only six or seven remained.

Passengers, however, are not completely at fault. Some said they were not aware that the books and magazines had to be returned.

"I thought the magazine was free and could be taken home if I had not finished reading it on the train," a commuter said.

Metro Line 9 is now planning to put up posters at all its stations explaining in detail how the book scheme works.

"Despite the initial losses, we will continue to provide free magazines and make sure that the supply remains sufficient," said Huang Qiongnuo, a metro company official.

(Shanghai Daily September 4, 2008)

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