Yesterday morning, a coworker forwarded me the link to an article on the Forbes website, along with her commentary that was basically, “No. Just no, no, no, no, nope, no.”
Naturally, I had to follow that link. The headline alone made me inclined to agree with her reaction. The article, Amazon Should Replace Local Libraries to Save Taxpayers Money, is another example of why people who don’t have the slightest idea about libraries shouldn’t write about them. I’m not including a link, because I’m not going to encourage payment for the author by giving him more easy clicks with a link.
(Update: The article has since been deleted, I think in no small part because of the amount of backlash it drew. Hopefully, this shows that these tirades against libraries, without any solid facts, are unwanted. I think it also shows just how valued libraries are by communities all over.)
I read it and actually said out loud, “EXCUSE ME?!”
Basically, his main argument is exactly what it sounds like. He believes that libraries no longer have the same value they once had. He argues that the rise of digital technology, streaming services, Amazon books, and Starbucks have made libraries less vital to the community.
And he couldn’t be more wrong.
The whole article comes across as very clearly written by someone who doesn’t use his local library—and what I’m sure are the many resources it provides—and is out of touch with how libraries affect their communities. The article is written from a place of extreme out-of-touch privilege.
And you know what? He’s not just coming across as privileged. He comes across as a straight up snob.
Access to resources
To assume everyone has the same means to access digital resources, or Amazon books, or streaming services, or Starbucks is mind-bogglingly out of touch. Has he simply not spoken to people outside of his bubble lately? Because I’m not sure how best to break this to the author, but libraries are here to serve the public. The entire public. Which includes the large section of the public who need access to books they can’t just easily buy. Or computers they don’t have access to at home. Or a safe, comfortable space to hang out, where you don’t have to buy anything to have access.
And a quick side note for everyone who doesn’t realize this: many people still do not have regular access to the digital resources a lot of us are used to. And it makes life hard for them. There is a genuine digital divide in this world, and libraries try in their way to help break this down.
But heaven forbid we think about that aspect of libraries.
Unwanted and uninformed advice.
This is hardly the only article that has suggested this type of advice to the world about libraries, and as a person who works in a library and who is making her career working in libraries because I have seen how valuable they are, I’m honestly just sick of it. I’m not alone in feeling this way since some awesome librarians took to Twitter after the article was posted to try and school the author (although he did not seem to see any problem in what he wrote—not a shock).
The tax fee is astronomically low for the value. Librarians squeeze hundreds of dollars of value from pennies.
You're seriously clueless about libraries today and their real value. You're a privileged white dude with no sense of what they really DO. https://t.co/s2OVUaLRTZ
— kelly jensen. (@veronikellymars) July 21, 2018
If you would have done any research (which your local library would have helped with), you would have found RECENT studies showing a $4-5 ROI per tax dollar spent for libraries. Pretty sure Amazon doesn't offer that. https://t.co/qwcvN0A6Wa
— Kevin (@NYALibrarian) July 21, 2018
I can guarantee that even the well-funded libraries work incredibly hard to invest the money they are given wisely and responsibly (we have to account for every penny). And many times, our job consists of finding a way to provide for our patrons even when we may not have the means to do so. Talk to a teen librarian sometime—they’re basically wizards who make amazing programs out of NOTHING. Oh, and none of us do it for fame or fortune, because you don’t get either in this line of work. And that is okay with us. Why? Because we love our libraries, and our coworkers, and our patrons, and our communities. We do our work because we don’t just think it has value, we know it has value, and see that value first hand on a daily basis.
I’ve seen kids develop a reading habit as they come into a library over the course of a year. I’ve helped patrons put in applications and find jobs. I’ve seen a child light up as their children’s librarian comes into the room. I’ve seen senior citizens who may not have family develop bonds with a whole community by being regulars. I’ve worked in a library that was, for some of our regular patrons who were homeless, one of the few places they could be treated like anyone else. I’ve seen teens make social connections over the manga and anime they love at an Anime Club hosted by the library. I’ve been told by one person that the library saved her life, after which she gave me and my coworkers a hug.
So please, explain to me how Amazon Books will replace that. Explain to me what you’re saving by destroying that resource. Because I can assure you that all of those things are not going to happen at a Starbucks.
And you know what? Librarians aren’t sitting here telling the world that we should replace doctors with WebMD (not saying librarians and doctors do the same thing, so don’t even come at me). You don’t see us suggesting that we replace snobbish out-of-touch men with anatomically correct robots that don’t need salaries, are effective workers, solid dates, and don’t give unwanted opinions, do you?
Do you see us writing those articles for Forbes? No. You don’t. Because that wouldn’t make a whole lot of sense, would it?
So maybe, just maybe, before someone decides to write an article encouraging the world to defund libraries, or describing how useless they are, they should try and actually work in one, or become a part of a community that needs one.
*Ed.’s Note: As of July 23, the article is no longer available on Forbes’s website.