Culture, tales from the local library

Forbes pulls stupid article which suggested that Amazon could replace public libraries.

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.

 

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12 thoughts on “Forbes pulls stupid article which suggested that Amazon could replace public libraries.”

  1. The original author seems to assume that taxes are intrinsically bad and we must cut them. He seems to be missing the point that taxes are supposed to benefit the public good. He apparently ended his argument by saying he pays $500/yr. Well, sure, he’s paying taxes each year to promote literacy and equal access. I see nothing wrong with that. I could also save money if I stopped buying food, but some things are worth spending money on.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. You’re right. Even a small government conservative like me appreciated that tax dollars which serve the public good are important.

    Also, suppose everyone petitioned for the abolishment of the services they don’t personally use. The idea is absurd to anyone who thinks about it for more than 3 seconds.

    Like

  3. Can I just say I love the title of this post? 😀

    Thanks, Briana! I was concerned that it sounded a little too ranty but it was off the
    cuff and I couldn’t think of anything else at the time.

    Thanks to you and Krysta for staying on the cutting edge of news in the book and reading circles!

    Like

  4. I think I might be out-numbered here.

    “He seems to be missing the point that taxes are supposed to benefit the public good.”

    I believe taxes are for all infrastructure and emergency services and protection. All things good in this world — morality and other all benefits for the public (“the world”) should be streamlined back to God, so He gets the glory. Morality and all benefits linked thereto, have always been the responsibility of the individual, the married couple, the family and finally the brethren —> Christian church and secular charitable (not for profit) organizations. Government taxes are an economic matter.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Small government conservative here, as a preface.

    Emergency services and protections are public goods. As are roads and I guess schools were at some point as well, 😉.

    There is a lot, lot, lot of nonsense that benefits no one paid for with tax dollars. My argument is that libraries are not one of those things.

    In a country this size (350 million, is it?) where just about everyone can vote regardless of literacy or understanding what they are even voting for, libraries are essential.

    I am not a fan of universal suffrage, but since we have it, a place where the populace can have full access to the wealth of history and information needed to be an informed citizen -for free!- is more than just a public good.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. I don’t believe it is “for free” though, that’s the thing. At this present time on our timeline, we live in the information age. Each school has its own library AND internet access for all students. It is, in my opinion, ‘double-dipping’ into the tax coins to then also subsidize MORE information outlets. I’m not saying we shouldn’t have libraries, only that they should be funded by charities.

    It might be that, do you know that in Canada, because libraries are government funded, the staff cannot kick out vagrants? Because they are funded by tax dollars; my kids sit alongside the skid row drunk. Edmonton, AB happens to be very bad for it … Red Deer, AB as well. I’m sure there are lots of great country or rural libraries that are safe and don’t have homeless people sleeping on the chairs and couches; but what I am after here is the philosophy of government funding. Another point is that they are decidedly secular, as a believer I find it disconcerting that my money is being used support gay and lesbian lifestyles and books that teach young children all about various forms of deviant sex.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Well no it’s not free, which why were talking about it at dollars being used for it.

    I have visited our downtown library and even recently there are still cops stationed there kicking out misbehaving individuals. Not sure how much longer that will last. But in reality I mostly go to outlying suburban branches in better, family friendly neighborhoods.

    At this point I can still go in any of our library branches and find Bibles and other legit Christian literature. At this point.

    And since that is the case, and since it is also the case that our governments are not Christian, for right now I think that is fair enough. Atheists and gays pay taxes too.

    Perhaps charities should fund libraries but as soon as you start labeling libraries as Christian or atheist, then you have a whole new set of issues that only the Christian has to contend with.

    We don’t live in theocracies so we have to find ways to live peaceably with all kinds around us as much as it depends on us.

    It’s a complicated issue such as you always run into on these issues in Democratic republics.

    Rightly or wrongly of me, I have mostly compartmentalized my expectations of government. I don’t expect them to espouses the morality and views of my church.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. “Rightly or wrongly of me, I have mostly compartmentalized my expectations of government. I don’t expect them to espouses the morality and views of my church.”

    I think a lot of us have put a greater expectation on the government than on God … it’s a problem and how, at least in part, we’ve arrived at where we now sit as a society at large … we look to the government to hand out to everyone and to fix everything for us.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. See Robyn, I log this under “Render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s and unto the Lord what is the Lord’s”.

    Nothing to do with expecting the government to hand me or anyone else anything.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. While I appreciate a strictly libertarian viewpoint, I don’t think that equating an appreciation for gov’t services with gov’t as God is quite relevant to the discussion of the value of a public (and publicly funded) library.

    I don’t have access to “nice suburban libraries” like Els – and yes, there are numerous vagrants accessing the libraries here. Mostly they use the internet or sit quietly in corners. I don’t have a problem with well-behaved homeless people using public services – they’re public, that’s what public means.

    If we were going to start cutting gov’t programs (an excellent idea), libraries would be fairly far down on my list of things to cut. They don’t cost much and are a good return on investment.

    That is, of course, separate from the issue of whether one would or would not allow homeless people into the charitable library… I tend to think that one would.

    Liked by 2 people

  11. This is going all off the topic, but I keep asking myself are all “good things” necessarily “God things”? I ask this with the understanding that my thoughts and human definition of “good” are as far as the east is from the west when considering God’s understanding of “good”.

    After all, it pleased Him to bruise His son for our sake. To pretend that I could ever see that as “good” apart from divine revelation is laughable. Which brings me to this point:

    Some things are “good” in the sense that they are useful in a broad ways and don’t cause harm. But that’s a natural thing which doesn’t fall under the heading of “every good and perfect gift comes from above from the Father of Lights”.

    Some things are not only of no good use, but are actively harmful. See Planned Parenthood for example, which is also publicly funded.

    This is why I have compartmentalized my expectations of government. Jesus fairly well ignored the Roman government in all his recorded teachings except to say “render unto Caesar that which is Caesar’s”.

    I find that extremely instructive. I would be more comfortable with the argument that Christians shouldn’t use the library (even though I strongly disagree with it) than I am with the notion that we should see publicly funded libraries as an attempt to usurp the opportunity for Christians to trust God to fund their own libraries. How many churches have bookstores but no libraries? Mine does, too. Again. Instructive.

    Frankly, I can think of a lot of wonderful Christian people who would roundly veto several of the books I have reviewed right here. I’m cool with that, because I can afford to buy books.

    Like I replied to Robyn up thread, when I can’t go into my library and find several Bibles and some seriously good Christian literature (and yeah, I actually check for Bibles in there), I am certain my view would change drastically because the library would be showing blatant discrimination to people (including seekers) who are interested in using the library to explore Christian literature.

    After all, Christians pay taxes just like gays and atheists.

    Liked by 1 person

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