Forbes Article Sparks Impassioned Defense of Libraries

An article that appeared in Forbes magazine online on July 21, calling for all public libraries to be replaced by Amazon bookstores, has the library community—and the communities they serve—up in arms. The op-ed piece, “Amazon Should Replace Local Libraries to Save Taxpayers Money,” by Panos Mourdoukoutas, chair of the economics department at Long Island University’s Post campus, drew righteously indignant and thoughtful responses.

An article that appeared in Forbes magazine online on July 21, calling for all public libraries to be replaced by Amazon bookstores, has the library community—and the communities they serve—up in arms. The op-ed piece, “Amazon Should Replace Local Libraries to Save Taxpayers Money,” by Panos Mourdoukoutas, chair of the economics department at Long Island University’s Post campus, drew righteously indignant and thoughtful responses. 

Forbes removed the article in question on Monday, July 23, but not before library lovers took to Twitter, Facebook, and the rest of the Internet en masse to explain why Mourdoukoutas’s idea was a bad one. A variety of sites such as GizmodoMashablethe GuardianUproxx, and the Mary Sue rounded up the comments as they rolled in; as @meghancnyc tweeted, “It would have taken 1 conversation w a librarian 2 refute, literally, every 1 of his claims.”

Or as author @t_mcallister wrote, addressing the article’s potential as a teaching moment: “normally when everyone is tweeting angrily about the same dumb article, I get burned out on it within a few hours but I hope we spend the whole next week collectively talking about how great libraries are and how shitty the anti-library article is.”

TAXES, PRIVILEGE, AND AN OFFER TO AMAZON

In response to Mourdoukoutas’s comment that he pays $495 in taxes to support his local library, national nonprofit political action committee EveryLibrary offers a cost breakdown on Medium, noting that the library tax burden for the average American taxpayer over 18 is about $4.50 per month.

@gwenckatz compared her own taxes to the retail price of borrowed books: “Cost to individually buy the six books I have on hold this week: $70. Amount the Altadena Library Special Parcel Tax cost me this week: 75¢. Someone help me budget this, I'm not the chair of an economics department.”

As far as  return on investment goes, @gimblerocket pointed out that “Economists just studied the @torontolibrary system. It created over $1 billion in economic impact, generating $5.63 of impact for every $1 spent, and a 463% ROI. Seems like a good use of tax dollars to me.” Actor, writer, and musician @MJMcKean simply quoted Walter Cronkite: “Whatever the cost of our libraries, the price is cheap compared to that of an ignorant nation.”

Mourdoukoutas lives in Long Island’s Nassau County; a reverse engineering of his local tax rate reveals that his home would be worth around $1.5 million. But even without that information, many responders identified the issue not only as a matter of the author’s lack of familiarity with modern library services (@Meganfangirl tweeted, “Did you go to any libraries or go to their webpages to look at their jam packed programming schedule? did you get any statistics? Because it looks like you should have used the local library to fact check yourself first.”) but as an issue of privilege.

It was not lost on those responding to the article that the author was advocating for a corporate giant to replace a public service.  “The elitist ignorance here is staggering,” tweeted @peterhartlaub. “Public libraries are refuge—from, among many other things, the spread of corporate monolith advocated in this piece. Please let the response be a tripling down of commitment to preserve free community spaces.”

Noted @sofiaquintero: “Historically those with power overtly protected their position by keeping oppressed communities illiterate. This idea is a modern reincarnation. Libraries serve POC, the poor, etc. They are where people apply for citizenship, register to vote, access social programs.”

Even tongue-in-cheek reactions hit home, such as @todgoldberg’s answer to Mourdoukoutas’s Twitter query asking if anyone read his article: “So, yes, we all read your article. It was poorly written, vaguely sourced, and beneath your standing as an academic. I do look forward to your next piece, ‘Krispy Kreme Should Replace Food Stamps,’ however. Others compared it to reinstituting a private fire department.

In addition to noting the cost of Netflix, Amazon Prime, and a coffee at Starbucks (Mourdoukoutas suggested the coffee chain was a reasonable substitute as a “third place” where people could gather and use  Wi-Fi), others pointed out that libraries provided coding clubs, literacy programs, cooking classes, and disposable masks during the California wildfires.

“Visit your local library for one day,” tweeted @aelaineo. “Sit and watch who comes in to use the services—it’s not just people checking out free books. It’s one of few places in our society where the underserved can be treated with dignity and respect. It’s WiFi. It’s translators. It’s kindness.”

Where is Amazon in this rebuttal? Scott Bonner, director of the Ferguson Public Library, MO, and a 2015 LJ Mover & Shaker, called the company out in a tweet: “I call on @amazon and @JeffBezos to start a new initiative to support public libraries in their on-the-ground efforts to create new readers! Now is the PERFECT time to show your support for this vital community institution!” In a subsequent tweet, he offered to consult with Amazon in his role as the leader of a vibrant community library.

And where does Forbes fall on the question?

@SFPublicLibrary proposed, “Maybe @Forbes doesn’t like that you can download their magazine free with your #SF library card.”

However, Forbes senior vice president of corporate communications Matthew Hutchison told LJ, “Forbes advocates spirited dialogue on a range of topics, including those that often take a contrarian view. Libraries play an important role in our society. This article was outside of this contributor’s specific area of expertise, and has since been removed.”

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Lisa Peet

Lisa Peet is Associate Editor, News for Library Journal.

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Lacy Bullard

This idea is a reflection of the total ignorance of the elite regarding the lives of middle class and poor citizens in American communities. It totally ignores a founding principle of our government: of, by and FOR the people.

Posted : Oct 14, 2018 03:23


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