There are few things more demoralizing than being treated like a criminal in your own university. Yet we all know the feeling: it happens everytime you exit the bookstore on Broadway.
We all know the drill: “I need to see your receipt,” says the imposing security guard who stands sentry at the doors, looking like he belongs more in the Secret Service than a university bookstore. Because he appears to possess the ability to tear you limb from limb, you stop, open your bag and hand him your receipt.
He ruffles through your bag — because if you were shoplifting books, you’d definitely hide them in an NYU bookstore bag — makes sure everything matches the receipt and sends you on your merry way. If you’re lucky, he’ll say “thanks.”
The receipt-check, a security measure enforced at many national retailers, in addition to our own bookstore, is both shame-inducing and time consuming. That the measure is enforced by the university on its own students only adds insult to injury.
After I’d received the usual treatment while book-shopping last week, I felt feisty and asked the guard: “I was wondering, are we required to stop and get our receipts checked?” He lifted his hand, and for a split second I was certain we were about to come to blows over questioning his marginal authority. But he was just motioning me along. There was another potential shoplifter to be questioned.
But as a few quick Internet searches soon illuminated, you are not, in fact, legally required to let the security guard check your receipt. “Unless you’ve met your state’s definition of probable cause for shoplifting,” Consumerist reports, “a retailer has absolutely no right to detain you.”
This makes sense. You’ve already bought the books. Yes, sixty seconds ago they belonged to NYU Bookstores but now they are your personal property. Why would you let someone else search through your personal property? When the guard asks to see your receipt, you have every right to just keep walking.
We can’t blame the bookstore for keeping a tight watch on its wares: NYU alumn Tao Lin detailed his experience shoplifting from the NYU computer store in a post for Gawker. And the university isn’t known for placing trust in students.
Is having your bag checked as you walk out the door the biggest offense? Of course not. Sure, most of our bitterness is probably lingering resentment for the authoritarian mall cop in high school who said we couldn’t loiter outside the food court blasting Blink-182 from our iPod Touches, but in this Kafkaesque parade of red tape and bureaucracy we call college, you’ve got to take little victories where you can get them. So next time you’re buying books, blow right past the guard as he asks to search your bags. It’ll feel good. Afterwards, you can celebrate your handy defeat of the man with a beer at Brad’s.