These days public libraries operate on desperation as often as they run on anything else. This recently drove several library staff to do something a little reckless.
Culling library collections often relies on numbers. If a patron checks out a book, that book is safe in the system. If a book isn’t checked out for a certain period of time, however, that book is often placed on a to-be-culled list. These lists don’t take into account whether or not a book is considered a classic, was written by a famous author, or has regional value. It only looks at circulation numbers.
To get around this system, several librarians at Florida’s East Lake County Library created a fictitious library patron, Chuck Finley. Named after a retired major league baseball pitcher, Finley would be their savior. During 2016, Finley checked out 2,361 books from the library. These books varied and included titles by John Steinbeck as well as children’s books, rendering them safe from culling. When the subterfuge came to light, the library’s branch manager defending the creation of Finley, stating that the fake patron prevented the library from needing to repurchase books in the future.
The people involved in the Finley scheme are currently undergoing various degrees of disciplinary action.
What this story affirms to me is both that libraries are filled with people who love books and that libraries are experiencing extreme budget cuts. Trying to reconcile these two things makes staff desperate. I certainly understand the need not to have fake patrons, but I am also sympathetic to the desire to save books. What we as community members can do to ease the burden on staff is to support local libraries, check out their book sales, and vote for measures that increase their funding.
I have to admit though that when I originally read this story, I raised a coffee cup in Chuck Finley’s honor. He had a good run.