There’s this guy named Panos Mourdoukoutas, a regular contributor to Forbes magazine, who recently suggested in a now-deleted post that Amazon Should Replace Local Libraries to Save Taxpayers Money. This is one of the most asinine ideas I’ve ever read.
He begins: “Amazon should open their own bookstores in all local communities. They can replace local libraries and save taxpayers lots of money, while enhancing the value of their stock.” There’s so much wrong with his first paragraph.
Communities pick library locations largely based on need, businesses on profits. That less lucrative part of town, the one that needs the library the most, may very well do without. Well, unless taxpayers are going to somehow subsidize Amazon to build in certain neighbors; there goes those taxpayer savings. So replacing a public library with a private, unaccountable business makes no sense.
And why would we want to enhance the value of Amazon stock? What is the social good of that? Amazon founder Jeff Bezos is currently considered THE richest person in the world. Many news outlets suggest Amazon employees are treated poorly and paid dismally. If Amazon started compensating its workers with a livable wage and decent benefits, THAT would save taxpayers money.
Panos correctly notes that “libraries served as a place where residents could hold their community events,” and this remains true. That “there’s no shortage of places to hold community events” is patently false.
He’s also right that “libraries… introduced video rentals and free internet access.” He argues that these services “don’t have the same value they used to” because of “the rise of ‘third places’ such as Starbucks.” But based on the line waiting for the local library branch to open, for many, the public library IS their “third place,” along with home and work. Not everyone has access to high speed Internet or can afford it!
Then he says, “Technology has turned physical books into collector’s items, effectively eliminating the need for library borrowing services.” That is preposterous. In spite of, or perhaps BECAUSE of, all of the technological changes of the last quarter century, public library usage is skyrocketing.
My guess is that Panos hasn’t visited a library in years, or accessed it remotely. Libraries help people with their taxes for free, offer classes for a variety of community members, catalog local history, utilize maker spaces, and even provide added benefits like community-accessible bike pumps and tools for on-the-spot repairs.
Panos Mourdoukoutas is also the guy who thinks Starbucks baristas should be paid by the number of drinks they serve, not an hourly wage. Yuck.
My bias, I should note, is as a librarian, on the boards of the in-the-process-of-merging Friends of the Albany Public Library and the Albany Public Library Foundation. But my participation on these boards is a function of recognizing since I was a child the vital function libraries have in serving their communities.
Here’s another rebuttal.