“…the use of data as a shackle rather than a tool.”

The branch supervisor at the East Lake County Library in Florida has been suspended for creating a fake patron record and using that to check out books that are in danger of being culled for lack of use.

Libraries weed books. It’s sad, but necessary. Storage space is not infinite. In order to optimise their services, libraries will often weed books that have not been used in a long time. And software systems are very good at tracking usage, and thus reporting on which books to dispose of.

The problem, as Boing Boing points out, is that statistics are a) not unbiased and b) lack insight and broader contextual understanding.

For example: the suspended branch supervisor, George Dore, used the fake patron account because he wanted to save the library from having to re-purchase books that he considered would become popular again.

Theoretically, this is what you pay librarians for. But in the money wars between governments and service providers, insight and context lose out to raw data. As Boing Boing state:

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. As the article in the Orlando Sentinel hints, this is because “money wars” have made enemies out of the city and its librarians — and as this episode highlights, there is no good way to proceed amidst that enmity. 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.

The idea worth stealing here is: do not blindly trust the data – run it past the experts first.


About davidwitteveen

IT person. Zine Maker. Level 0 Library Nerd. Doctor Who fan.
This entry was posted in ideas worth stealing, Uncategorized and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s