This past weekend, Forbes published an op-ed that advocated for libraries being shut down and replaced by Amazon bookstores, all in the name of saving people tax money. Due to widespread public outrage, the piece has apparently been pulled, though it is still preserved on the Wayback Machine. I wrote this response while the article was still on Forbes’s website, and we are still posting it because we want to educate people about the role of public libraries and their very real value to their communities.
As someone who has spent the last 10 years working for the Berryville Public Library and is currently a member of our Friends of the Library board, I was horrified by the measures the Forbes editorial recommended. But I was also disturbed by the number of misconceptions that Panos Mourdoukoutas, the author of the piece, seems to have about what libraries actually do and the services they provide their communities.
He notes that in the past libraries provided resources like books, magazines, and journals, as well as quiet research places, comfortable places to enjoy books, space for community events, video rentals, and free internet access. However, according to his reasoning, these things can all be sought elsewhere, including Starbucks and Amazon bookstores.
I have been hearing these doom-and-gloom pronouncements about how outdated libraries are and how they are shortly on their way toward the fate of dinosaurs and dodos since I was first hired by a library. Inevitably, I have always found that they are perpetuated by people who have outdated ideas of what libraries do.