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


#1

Originally published at: http://boingboing.net/2017/01/02/automated-book-culling-softwar.html


#3

Or even checking the book out.

Even if a book is not checked out, it may still be referenced. Now I’m sure there are some fancy libraries that will know what books have been removed from the shelf and need to be re-shelved, but the libraries I’m most familiar with have no means of tracing that.


#4

When clueless people (generally upper management) see “data” - they assume some supercomputer will see something they’re not seeing and magically solve all their problems. Algorithms are written by people. The computer just runs them over and over. What is the goal of the person writing the program? Do they know what they’re doing? In many cases, the answer is no. Look at facebook’s famous algorithms. They somehow treat fake news stories as real news. Of course! How does one write an algorithm to determine whether news is real or fake? It’s not really possible.

Unfortunately, upper management of companies, governments, institutions of all kinds will continue to think “big data” is infallible and will solve all their problems. Then punish any human who disagrees with the results of the sacred algorithms.


#5

Absolutely.


#6

I miss the Dewey Decimal Classification System.


#7

I miss card catalogs.

Especially the smell.


#8

Do you use an academic library? In this area Dewey still reigns supreme in the public system.


#9

Yes, but I do not miss missing cards. :wink:

Checking out a book to someone and finding the card used as a bookmark- that’s a disappointment that can stay in the past.


#10

That librarians had to resort to such measures indicates that the whole process was pretty messed up. Weeding is (unfortunately) a necessary and inevitable endeavor in non-TARDIS based libraries, but there’s ways of minimizing the possibility of throwing away unrecognized gems. The automated identification of low or uncirculated can be useful, but you should also

  1. Have librarians and informed/expert interested parties (like University departmental faculty) look at the candidates and have an opportunity to save them - basically what these librarians where trying to do and should have had the open chance to do so
  2. Check possible discards for copies available in electronic archives or library consortia -if it’s the last available physical copy, even if it’s in an archive electronically, it might be a good idea to hang on to it. Tangential to that - is there something inherent to the object that can’t be replicated electronically? Pop-up ebooks aren’t much fun.
  3. Consider the purpose/scope of the library - is it a comprehensive research collection or a community college nursing program - in one it’d be useful to have outdated information for history of medicine purposes. In the other where students may not yet be savvy enough to recognize stuff that shouldn’t be used in current practice, books even 10 years old can be mostly noise.
  4. Look at frequently circulated stuff as well - is a 7 year old ACT study guide that checked out 300 times really still worth keeping?

I’m sure I’m missing at least a few other considerations as well, but those are some of the things I’ve learned from the weeding I’ve been involved in.


#11

I used to work for a university librarian who believed books that weren’t checked out were a waste of space. In 1998 he made a grand speech to library staff about how in as little as ten years we could potentially digitize everything, eliminate the library buildings, and save a tremendous amount of money by only purchasing snippets of books because “that’s all researchers need”.

It’s still hard for me to believe that a lifelong librarian could be that shortsighted but I had a feeling I’d be hearing more people espousing his ideas.


#12

“Chuck Finley” is a reference to Sam Axe’s alias on Burn Notice: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sam_Axe


#13

You miss the idea of card catalogs.


#14

"They did it because they wanted to make the system better, to teach it how to weight the circulation data to reflect the on-the-ground intelligence and historical perspective they had on their libraries, their collections and their patrons."
They did it to improve the outcome, but I’d say the system is still fucked up. When a vital part of the system involves people working in unsanctioned ways perhaps frowned upon by management, that is, a system that relies on the most knowledgeable people creating their own unofficial work-arounds to offset crippling flaws, that is a broken system.

Yeah, really. IANAL (I am not a librarian), but it seems to me that one of the vital purposes of a library is to provide access to works that might otherwise be hard to get ahold of - the kinds of things that people don’t check out very often. I know that I’ve stumbled upon obscure and rarely checked out books that ended up being revelatory.


#15

I found them easier to use than the computer systems I currently find in libraries.


#16

There is no way all 2,300 books those librarians checked out are coming back into fashion and will need to be repurchased by the library. His method is as lazy as automatically dumping everything that hasn’t checked out in two years.


#17

This gal/guy gets it. :+1:


#18

Typically books have to show multiple circulations within a time frame to avoid deaccession. The article is unclear as to whether these were 2,300 individual titles.


#19

Yes, they were fun, in a way, but ultimately a poor way of organizing information.

Libraries cannot live on based on nostalgia


#20

That’s the purpose of a research library, probably with the luxury of off-site storage. For a regular lending library, though, we do not have endless shelving.


#21

Librarian here.

The typical response from Joe Public after hearing a rumor about deaccessioning (ie: throwing away books) is general horror. Something along the lines of “how could you possibly throw away a book, someone might want to read it?!” and “how could you possibly ask for more money WHEN YOU ARE THROWING AWAY BOOKS?!”

Folks, it’s an issue of shelf space. If the books are digital, keep them for whatever, why not. If they are physical, old books need to be tossed when new books are in.

Yes, it makes us librarians wince a bit every time, but it’s a simple matter of necessity. We need space for new books, so we throw out the old books that aren’t being used.

Sure, you can make exceptions (that’s more of a management issue). But, right, space. Unless you can figure a way to put in more shelving, you’re going to have to throw some things away.