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Fake Library Patron Causes Problems in Florida

by on January 26, 2017

We all know some strange things can happen in libraries, but a story out of the East Lake County Library in Sorrento, Fla., has left me scratching my head. A few staff members at the library decided to create a fake library patron called Chuck Finley, who “checked out” 2,361 book over nine months in an effort to boost the circulation stats of the library’s classic books.[1] Now, one staff member could lose his or her  job.

The desire to both save books and save the library money is understandable. Unfortunately, the staff’s actions created a larger problem.  “‘Chuck Finley’s’ prolific checking out of books,” boosted circulation by 3.9 percent.[2] This was all an attempt to counteract the library’s weeding policy: “[If] something isn’t circulated in one to two years, it’s typically weeded out of circulation.”[3] It’s a shame that more reasonable efforts were not taken to address the issue.

Despite many people’s cringing at the thought of it, weeding is a necessary process in libraries,. Though I do not have a problem with weeding, the East Lake County Library’s blanket two-year checkout limit seems aggressive.[4] There are many other important criteria to consider when weeding. Besides low usage, librarians look at currency, physical condition, and uniqueness.[5] Staff could have addressed any concerns by talking to the administrators and attempting to revise the library’s collection development policy. Naturally, this would take work, but it would be a worthy effort since these policies need periodic updating anyway. Additionally, library staff could have considered designating the classic books a special collection—much like reference books, a local history collection, or genealogical materials—so that they could remain in use.

Jason Ruiter notes that the use of dummy patron cards is spreading and that one is “[creating] a false public record.”[6] in doing so. I hope this practice is not becoming a norm. It might not seem like a problem, but it is, as this case proves. Short of testing that the ILS is functioning properly, there’s no need for a patron dummy card. Whatever the motivations here, it appears there was a lack of judgment and communication. Now the library must deal with extra scrutiny and a loss of trust.

Editor’s Note:  We removed this sentence on 1/31/2017, after determining that the information was incorrect: Funding for this library is determined by circulation numbers, which were severely skewed by their misstep.[2]

2.  Jason Ruiter, “To Save Books, Librarians Create ‘Fake’ Reader to Check Out Titles,” Orlando Sentinel, December 30, 2016.


References

[1] Eric Grundhauser, “Why a Fake Patron Named ‘Chuck Finley’ Checked Out 2,361 Books at This Florida Library Last Year,” Alta Obscura, January 3, 2017.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Jeff Cole in “To Save Books, Librarians Create ‘Fake’ Reader to Check Out Titles” by Jason Ruiter.

[4]Why a Fake Patron Named ‘Chuck Finley’ Checked Out 2,361 Books at This Florida Library Last Year,” Alta Obscura.

[5] Collection Management Guidelines – Weeding, UALR Ottenheimer Library,

http://ualr.edu/library/cd-guidelines-weeding/#Criteria

[6]To Save Books, Librarians Create ‘Fake’ Reader to Check Out Titles,” Orlando Sentinel.



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1 comment

  1. Sarah says:

    Jan 27, 2017

    The Orlando Sentinel article is misleading in its discussion of funding driven by circulation. It states that the city branches do have some circulation-influenced funding, but this branch, being a county library, does not have funding based on circulation stats. Perhaps you should revise your article to reflect this, instead of continuing the spread of misinformation.

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