Librarians Try to Save Computer-Endangered Books with Fake Patrons

Is datification ruining the American library?

Saving data in Rogue One

According to the Orlando Sentinel, two Florida library employees are the latest martyrs of the “money wars” erupting throughout U.S. automated bureaucratic systems. George Dore, the library branch supervisor of East Lake County Library, and assistant Scott Amey, were caught red handed after devising a bogus patron, “Chuck Finley,” to check out 2,361 struggling books in 2016 in order to keep the titles on the shelves. Dore explains that he was left with few other options except to fabricate Finley — with a fake drivers license and address to boot, due to the hierarchical nature of the technology which sorts and keeps the library’s books in circulation. Typically, if a book has not been checked out in the last year or two, it is removed. This decision will unequivocally be made, oftentimes in spite of the library staff who are armed with years of experience, and understand the cyclical nature of books fading in and out of popularity.

In an article discussing this situation in Boing Boing, Cory Doctorow invokes Cennydd Bowles, and claims that this is an example of “datification at its worst.” Doctorow raises a serious question about what happens when we start relying on computers to “optimize” or put value on books based on scales of popularity that are ever-shifting or subjective, and thus cause us to undervalue the human experience of a librarian’s book recommendation:

“The problem here isn’t the collection of data: it’s the blind adherence to data over human judgment, the use of data as a shackle rather than a tool.”

For now, George Dore is on suspension, and it seems that his experiment with library card fraud may ultimately cost him his job. Oh, and in case you’re wondering, Chuck Finley is based on a real person… Dore and Amey used the retired left-handed pitcher for the California Angels as the namesake for their escapade for reasons still unknown, but they were probably hoping for a strike out just one last time.

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