I never actually read the article in question, only learning of it as a result of the ever informed and prolific book blogging of Krysta @ Pages Unbound. She goes into detail why an Amazon bookstore could never replace a public library.
When the original Forbes link failed, I went looking for it and found out via Quartz that Forbes pulled it as a result of the outpouring of dissent from local libraries and the communities they serve.
On Saturday morning Forbes published an opinion piece by LIU Post economist Panos Mourdoukoutas with the headline “Amazon Should Replace Local Libraries to Save Taxpayers Money.” It quickly received enthusiastic backlash from actual American libraries and their communities.
As of around 10am US eastern time this morning, the story had nearly 200,000 views, according to a counter on the page. As of 11am, though, the story’s URL has been down.
“Forbes advocates spirited dialogue on a range of topics, including those that often take a contrarian view,” a Forbes spokesperson says in a statement. “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.”
Spirited dissent is no reason for a respected media outlet to pull its article, but in this case I think Forbes did the right thing. I was also slightly amused by the fact that, on the heels of the preceding post here on public shaming via Twitter, the misinformed economist in question got a mild dose of Twitter induced shaming. I do not have a Twitter account and thus was spared the temptation to pile on. Y’all know I love me a public library. That was a joke. I was never, ever tempted to pile on.
Better informed -and apparently better educated- economists have already done an excellent job of teasing out how much the original economist, Panos Mourdoukoutas, overstated the financial impact libraries have on individual homeowners who pay taxes to keep libraries funded. Moreover, the idea that local residents could ever pry “unused” dollars away from the coffers of local municipalities is a joke worthy of a good belly laugh.
Most of the dissent was offered on behalf of the indigent who are largely dependent on public libraries for access to everything from books and summer lunch programs, to foreign language classes, to Internet service. These are indeed worthy programs, the loss of which would further devastate residents of communities which are already struggling.
However, for those not indigent nor particularly moved by whether or not the less fortunate have access to services and amenities the middle and wealthier classes take for granted, it is worth noting that far more than indigent, urban dwellers would miss out if libraries suddenly closed. We live in a middle class community of well-kept, appreciating homes, a well stocked pantry and decent enough schools. Nevertheless, we too, would miss out on a great deal if Mr. Mourdoukoutas’ ideas were taken to heart. Here are just a few (off the top of my head) programs and/or services our family has utilized courtesy of our public library:
- Book clubs and summer reading programs
- Story times (all five of our kids have participated in these programs from age 18 months -5 years old.
- Science classes including everything from learning circuitry to seeing reptiles up close
- Art classes
- Typing class
- Graphic cartooning class
- Kid concerts and shows
Those are just the few I can think of for the few minutes I have to currently devote the mental energy. Our library also offers classes in arts and skilled crafts such as sewing, knitting, and crochet. Libraries are one of the few areas besides roads and first response services which I am proud and happy to have my tax dollars funding.
That the author of the original Forbes article was either unaware or discounted the value of the myriad services and programs offered by libraries illuminates yet another area of American life where values are diverging more and more. Mothers at home with young children, suburban families in general, and those without the means to simply whip out their laptop as I am currently doing could never make up the gap a loss of libraries would create at a mega bookstore.
And you don’t have to buy a cup of coffee to study at a public library.