Research

Librarians in Florida Create a Fake Reader to Save Books

Jan 3, 2017

LIBRARY LOOPHOLES: Chuck Finley, an East Lake County Library patron, checked out quite a few books in 2016—2,361 over the course of nine months, to be exact. But the reason behind Finley’s massive account isn’t some supernaturally fast ability to read; it’s because Finley is fake. Two employees at the Florida library created him in order to solve a problem with the library’s system: unpopular books are automatically purged from the collection.

Like many libraries, East Lake County uses a software to measure titles’ popularity based on how often they circulate. But trouble arises because the data-driven outcomes often override the opinions and judgements of professional librarians who select and recommend books, have a historical understanding of the collection and work with patrons every day. With Finley’s help, the weight of circulation data was adjusted to better reflect the librarian’s intelligence and perspective, and keep important—albeit perhaps less favored—books on the shelves. The library’s branch supervisor, George Dore, was reportedly suspended for participating in the maneuver

Is this an example of cold, ruthless efficiency at its worst? Futurist and BoingBoing writer Cory Doctorow left no doubt about his feeling, decrying this episode as “datafication at its worst” that pits algorithms against humans. “It’s the blind adherence to data over human judgment, the use of data as a shackle rather than a tool,” he writes. Doctorow even draws an eerie connection with those in the classroom:

Just as treating teachers as lazy welfare bums who must be measured with standardized tests has lowered educational standards and driven out the best teachers, so will any other system that treats employees as problems rather than solutions engender a continuous, spiraling arms race that will never solve the problem.

Research

Librarians in Florida Create a Fake Reader to Save Books

Jan 3, 2017

LIBRARY LOOPHOLES: Chuck Finley, an East Lake County Library patron, checked out quite a few books in 2016—2,361 over the course of nine months, to be exact. But the reason behind Finley’s massive account isn’t some supernaturally fast ability to read; it’s because Finley is fake. Two employees at the Florida library created him in order to solve a problem with the library’s system: unpopular books are automatically purged from the collection.

Like many libraries, East Lake County uses a software to measure titles’ popularity based on how often they circulate. But trouble arises because the data-driven outcomes often override the opinions and judgements of professional librarians who select and recommend books, have a historical understanding of the collection and work with patrons every day. With Finley’s help, the weight of circulation data was adjusted to better reflect the librarian’s intelligence and perspective, and keep important—albeit perhaps less favored—books on the shelves. The library’s branch supervisor, George Dore, was reportedly suspended for participating in the maneuver

Is this an example of cold, ruthless efficiency at its worst? Futurist and BoingBoing writer Cory Doctorow left no doubt about his feeling, decrying this episode as “datafication at its worst” that pits algorithms against humans. “It’s the blind adherence to data over human judgment, the use of data as a shackle rather than a tool,” he writes. Doctorow even draws an eerie connection with those in the classroom:

Just as treating teachers as lazy welfare bums who must be measured with standardized tests has lowered educational standards and driven out the best teachers, so will any other system that treats employees as problems rather than solutions engender a continuous, spiraling arms race that will never solve the problem.

Next In Research

Next in Research

STAY UP TO DATE ON EDTECH
News, research, and opportunities - sent weekly.
STAY UP TO DATE ON EDTECH
News, research, and opportunities - sent weekly.