Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Former pitcher gets a save

Someone named Chuck Finley checked 2,361 books out of a Florida library over a nine-month period last year. He didn't read any of them, mainly because he doesn't even exist. "Chuck Finley," named for a former major league baseball player, was the creation of two library employees, who gave their fictional patron a phony address and a phony driver's license number.

This may sound a bit like the Wells Fargo scandal that erupted in 2016 and led to the dismissal of more than 5,000 employees accused of creating fake checking accounts and credit cards to meet quotas and, by charging real customers for the fake accounts, improve the bank's bottom line. In fact, there was a suggestion the librarians created their fake patron in order to increase circulation (which it did by 3.9 percent) and, therefore, library funding (which apparently it did not).

Yet the two librarians had a more altruistic motive. They wanted to save certain books from the discard pile.

All libraries have limited shelf space. To create room for new books, older books must be discarded. Books that are not checked out over a set period of time are among those most likely to be removed from the shelves. The two employees of the East Lake County Library say they wanted to save books that, in their judgment, the library should have available whether they were actually being read or not. One of the books mentioned in the newspaper article I read was Cannery Row by John Steinbeck. I agree with them. Cannery Row belongs in their library, never mind how many years it has been since anyone other than Chuck Finley has checked it out.

These librarians may have had a good reason for doing what they did. Even so, they created "a false public record," as the inspector general's report put it. That can't be tolerated. But these strike me as just the kind of people libraries need on their staffs, employees who care about books and particularly good books.

Instead of firing them, perhaps they should be given, after some time off without pay, a new assignment: figuring out a better way to discard old library books while saving the classics.

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