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Automated book-culling software drives librarians to create fake patrons

  • tiamat (674 posts)
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    Automated book-culling software drives librarians to create fake patrons

    Automated book-culling software drives librarians to create fake patrons to “check out” endangered titles

    Two employees at the East Lake County Library created a fictional patron called Chuck Finley — entering fake driver’s license and address details into the library system — and then used the account to check out 2,361 books over nine months in 2016, in order to trick the system into believing that the books they loved were being circulated to the library’s patrons, thus rescuing the books from automated purges of low-popularity titles.

    Library branch supervisor George Dore was suspended for his role in the episode; he said that he was trying to game the algorithm because he knew that these books would come back into vogue and that his library would have to spend extra money re-purchasing them later. He said that other libraries were doing the same thing.

    This is datification at its worst: as Cennydd Bowles writes, the pretense that the data can tell you what to optimize as well as how to optimize it makes systems incoherent — it’s the big data version of “teaching to the test.” The library wants to be efficient at stocking books its patrons will enjoy, so it deploys software to measure popularity, and raises the outcomes of those measurements over the judgment of the skilled professionals who acquire and recommend books, who work with patrons every day. Instead of being a tool, the data becomes a straightjacket: in order to get the system to admit the professional judgment of librarians, the librarians have to manufacture data to put their thumbs on its scales. The point of the library becomes moving books by volume (which is only one of the several purposes of a library), and “the internal framing of users shifts. Employees start to see their users not as raison d’être but as subjects, as means to hit targets. People become masses, and in the vacuum of values and vision, unethical design is the natural result. Anything that moves the needle is fair game: no one is willing to argue with data.”

    Software is not objective. The designers of the library’s software made a subjective decision to take the measurements they are taking, and to respond to them in the way they are responding to them. The librarians who’d use the software are treated as adversaries, not allies — they are there to be controlled by the software, not informed by it. Just like the nurses who assign junior staffers to hit the spacebar at 10 second intervals to keep their terminals from re-prompting them for a password, the librarians who could not override the software by executive edict resorted to chicanery to get their jobs done.

    HubHeaver, Paka, Dragon Turtle and 12 othersdlegendary1, NJCher, RadicleFantast, kath, Bluesuedeshoes, Enthusiast, NV Wino, historylovr, HeartoftheMidwest, retired liberal, ChefEric, glitch like this

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15 replies
  • ASimpleGame (939 posts)
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    1. Who decided that a book had to be popular to be valuable?

    Sounds like a tool that could be upgraded to push propaganda and limit ideas that could be hazardous to the PTB.

    Good for the librarians pushing back… except for the punishment part.

    • Enthusiast (11150 posts)
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      3. Nice post!

      "The NSA’s capability at any time could be turned around on the American people, and no American would have any privacy left, such is the capability to monitor everything. There would be no place to hide."  Frank Church "When plunder becomes a way of life for a group of men in society, over the course of time they create for themselves a legal system that authorizes it and a moral code that glorifies it." - Frederic Bastiat, 1848
      • ASimpleGame (939 posts)
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        7. Thank you.

    • Cleita (2803 posts)
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      5. My thoughts exactly. This is why libraries were created in the first

      place, to archive all written knowledge. In the ancient Library of Alexandria in Egypt, all ships visiting the port were required to turn over their scrolls and manuscripts on board to be copied by scribes and then returned to the owners. It was for the purpose of pulling together all the knowledge of the known world then no matter how arcane that had been written down for the purpose of archiving them.

  • retired liberal (1969 posts)
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    2. 1984 won't be able to hold a candle to the computerized reality of Karma today.

    More and more we just cannot see past the next block of code, or even comprehend the flow-chart, of our electronic masters.
    Critical thinking is so last century.

    No matter how cynical you become, it's never enough to keep up. Lily Tomlin
  • Bluesuedeshoes (2386 posts)
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    4. Dangerous waters

    Books are our cumulative memory and storehouse of wisdom.

    Are we to delete the writings of Pliny the Elder because no one has checked him out recently.


  • Cleita (2803 posts)
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    6. I once owned a book store until I was put out of business by

    the bookstore chains that swept over the landscape in the early 80s pretty much wiping out all the mom and pops because they could sell cheaper than we could. But while I was in business, I always tried to keep a backlist of everything published, even if only one or two copies at a time, no matter if it didn’t move off the shelf as fast as I would like because I felt all knowledge was important and I was in business for profit. I wasn’t a library that is publicly funded so people can have free access.

    After I went out of business, I ran into a customer, who told me how sad he was that I was no longer in business because he always knew he could find what he was looking for in my store.

    This definitely stinks of propaganda and censorship.

    • FanBoy (7983 posts)
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      9. I've had lots of people tell me if they want a book they can

      1. find it/the information on the internet
      2. buy it at a store/on-line

      so why should they pay for libraries they don’t use

      these are mostly non-readers, or very shallow readers (read a couple of books a year/read mostly fiction/romance) but there seem to be a lot of them

      I think the fact that amazon is a ‘market-maker’ for books pretty much like wal-mart is for consumer goods bodes ill for human knowledge.

      as for propaganda and censorship, orwell wrote the book and we’re well on our way to the world he imagined — where history can be changed with a keystroke and there’s no hard copy anywhere —

      Fahrenheit 451 in the meantime as the libraries burn books and collectors are the main buyers


      • Cleita (2803 posts)
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        10. Fortunately, I didn't have to compete with the internet back then.

        There is something about being able to browse book shelves and thumb through and even read a few pages of a new title that you can’t get on Amazon.



        • FanBoy (7983 posts)
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          11. i'm a browser — but as a seller, didn't you resent them sometimes?

          and yeah, looking through the amazon catalog is nothing in comparison

          • Cleita (2803 posts)
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            13. Not at all. Even if a few copies got a bit worn, the publishers would allow you

            to return them for credit when they printed a new edition and of course paperbacks could always be returned. Also, it seemed to have the effect of the buyer getting more than he came in for.


            • FanBoy (7983 posts)
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              14. the kind of bookseller i like, thanks

              browsers buy, they just take a while

  • dlegendary1 (1052 posts)
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    8. Keeping America ignorant

    by removing books that might give Americans ideas.

    These mofos at the DNC can lick mah balls! I'm not voting or supporting their 3rd way goons.
    • FanBoy (7983 posts)
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      12. that's what i think the endgame will be

  • Seshat (388 posts)
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    15. As a retired librarian I have mixed feelings about this.

    It’s a controversial subject in library land

    Every library has limited shelf space.  Sooner or later something has to give and you have to weed.  If an item hasn’t moved in say, five years, it is a candidate for the Friends of the Library book sale or the recycling bin but it shouldn’t end there

    While Circulation and usage  counts are are a good tool they should not be the only tool–unless you want to be the proud manager of the most boring library on the face of the planet. That’s where your skilled professional staff comes in

    I always liked collection maintenance but there are librarians who avoid it like the plague–that’s a mistake in my opinion–if you don’t keep your shelves looking good chances are your boss is going to make you do it and you’re not going to like it. Besides, done correctly and intelligently it can highlight the good old stuff in your collection.

    The way this library went about it is just wrong.