By the Editorial Board
Published June 24, 2014
As it turns out, “The Quiet Don” has a
quieted author — at least in terms of the Lackawanna County Library System
Matt Birkbeck, a former reporter for The
Morning Call of Allentown and the author of “The Quiet Don,” had been booked by
the library system and paid $1,500 to appear Monday night. But after sending the
check to Mr. Birkbeck, the library suddenly canceled his appearance. So Mr.
Birkbeck was, in effect, paid not to appear — nice work if you can get it. (The
series is funded by private and public funds.)
The book contends that the late Russell Bufaliino of Kingston quietly built an organized crime empire in Northeast Pennsylvania from the 1930s into the 1960s while much of the national media and
law enforcement were focused on mob activity in major cities. And, as in an
earlier book by Charles Brandt, “I Heard You Paint Houses,” Mr. Birkbeck
contends that Mr. Bufalino was involved in the disappearance of Jimmy Hoffa in a
war over control of the Teamsters union. And the book mirrors some of Mr.
Birkbeck’s earlier reporting, dealing with the state’s creation of the
Pennsylvania casino industry and the award of a license to Dunmore businessman
The NEPA subject matter naturally has created a great deal of local interest in the book. Yet Mary Garm, administrator of the Lackawannaq County Library System, said Monday that she canceled Mr.
Birkbeck’s appearance for fear that he would draw a small crowd. Mr. Birkbeck
had made some other local appearances, including at Marywood University, she
said. Canceling the appearance, she said, saved the expense of renting the venue
According to Ms. Garm, she made the decision and the library board approved it, and there was no pressure for
cancellation from the board or other parties. Lack of public interest isn’t reflected
in the library’s own experience. According to Ms. Garm and Jack Finnerty,
director of the Scranton Public Library, the book has been among the most
heavily circulated in the system for some time. The library must have recognized
the level of interest when it booked Mr. Birkbeck. And multiple appearances by
an author rarely have been taken to indicate a lack of public interest.
In recent years the lecture series has been an invaluable asset to the area, bringing such luminaries as David
McCullough and presidential historian Michael Beschloss, among many others, to
the Scranton Cultural Center.
Here’s hoping that in the future, the library trusts its own circulation numbers when gauging public interest in an invited speaker, and pays authors to appear.