books · libraries

The Desperation of a Public Library

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.

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50 thoughts on “The Desperation of a Public Library

  1. That is just amazing. It goes to show that those librarians were truely dedicated to their job and every book holds meaning to them. I never knew that that happened to books that never got checked out, it’s rather surprising to me because I spend a lot of time at my public library and most times I don’t even check anything out 😦

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Kristen, this story is great (well, bittersweet). I love “Chuck Finley”. He is a hero and it sucks that those who are a part of the scheme have to be disciplined for such a benevolent scheme. I’ve always been a major patron of my local public libraries no matter what township or county or city I live in. And as I always say I give back to my library system regularly by averaging about $75 in late fees annually 😀

    Liked by 4 people

  3. Aww, this touches my heart. When I was a teenager I would ride my bike 10 miles into town from the country just to fill up the basket with books. It’s where I first found the Crystal Cave series by Mary Stewart, which probably is in a cull list somewhere, even though it’s now out of print.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. It is always so strange to think of books we once loved that may have ended up in the trash pile. There were a few children’s books that I ended up hunting down and buying just because I suspected that my local library wouldn’t have them forever. But then, I am a sentimental creature.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Such a shame they were caught. Maybe they should’ve invented a dozen or so “patrons” to spread the books around a little. Chuck was one avid reader! Libraries are important, and they should be supported. Sadly, it looks as though reading is declining every year; a victim of the electronic/games era and “instant gratifications.” 😦

    Liked by 4 people

      1. This is true lol I’ve heard horror stories of librarians getting new directors who did some very aggressive weeding (or culling, same thing) so to protect their favorite books and/or certain classics, they’d secretly check out hundreds of books in order to save them lol

        Liked by 1 person

  5. I’m familiar with that style of weeding (cull things not checked out ruthlessly) and it is a ridiculous policy. A school in WI recently removed all books published before 2000: http://www.bluecheddar.net/?p=40934 in a shameful manner (local activist groups had arranged to donate the books to inner city schools but the books were pulped instead). Recently students at one library where I work were assigned a history question as part of a project – to research the answer they had to use three books from the collection which had not been checked out in almost a decade. We all learned a lot from that one. You never weed items of permanent value, or items that you cannot replace with a better resource. It’s better to have an old book than no book at all.

    Liked by 4 people

    1. Hearing about that school in WI hurts my heart. Such waste. I worked in academic libraries for a while, and one of the hardest things was balancing space constraints and research needs. Often classes required esoteric texts. It was quite a puzzle to figure out how to keep all of the relevant books.

      Liked by 2 people

  6. It is a balancing act — maintaining breadth and depth in a collection, keeping up to date, and avoiding that “grubby” look. I must admit I was glad to be working in an area other than collections, because I find it hard to throw out perfectly good books that might be useful to someone, someday.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. I’m glad to hear that. I think it definitely depends on the library system. In one of my libraries, we had to downsize and got rid of something like 400,000 titles. The system we used wasn’t quite as stark as the one from this story though.

      Regardless, I’m glad that you have the chance to hold on to the books!

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  7. I used my small library near where I live quite a lot until it closed. Which is a shame when small libraries close as its easy for everyone including the disabled and the elderly. Now it’s a bus or car journey into the town I don’t bother going and I don’t expect the elderly or disabled would travel into the town. A touring library in most housing estate would be nice to see.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It is such a pity that the library near you shut down! I’m sure it was an issue of funding and resources, but like you said, it was close to a population that needed it and perhaps couldn’t travel far to other libraries.

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  8. We had a civilized collection development policy at the college library from which I recently retired which did not use circ stats as the only criterion for keeping (or weeding) any items. But I could have used Mr. Finley at a couple of public libraries in a previous lifetime.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. What a brilliant idea! My local library would probably be too apathetic to try anything as innovative as this. The gloom that hung over the library has left me feeling seriously depressed all day. There doesn’t seem to be a solution to library problems….

    Liked by 1 person

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