Libraries Don't Need Amazon's Help
Though it’s a few months old, I only recently heard about Panos Mourdoukoutas’ ridiculous piece in Forbes titled “Amazon Should Replace Local Libraries to Save Taxpayers Money.” I never had a chance to read the piece itself because Forbes quickly removed it from their site due to fierce backlash from readers. But, as the title implies, the gist of the piece was that Amazon, a behemoth that has pulled the rug out from many a brick and mortar company, should replace public libraries, those bastions of communities, to save taxpayers roughly $36 a year.
The idea that libraries offer no value beyond book rentals and free WiFi is ludicrous. Public libraries are community-building, neighborhood-revitalizing, democracy-promoting, history-preserving, literature-loving, art-appreciating, resource-providing, artist-supporting, discourse-sparking strongholds.
For the underprivileged, libraries can be a life-saver, the only place remaining to access free resources — from learning materials and museum passes to entertainment and even meals — in a welcoming environment. To suggest that any corporate monolith could replace the immeasurable benefits offered by public libraries is, to put it bluntly, idiotic.
Memories of a Bibliophile
On a more selfish level, libraries have been a fixture in my life for as long as I can remember. As a girl, I took bimonthly trips to our tiny local branch in South Boston, Massachusetts, borrowing books that opened my mind to worlds beyond my own. This was where I was introduced to the Sweet Valley Twins and learned Karen Kepplewhite is the World’s Best Kisser.
In junior high, I took the T to the Boston Public Library to gather research materials for science projects, while maybe taking a moment or two to watch the cute skateboarders perform sketchy tricks in Copley Square.
As an adult, I’ve brought my young son to libraries on both coasts — first near our former home in Los Angeles and then closer to our current residence in upstate New York — teaching him the value of literature, enriching his budding vocabulary, and instilling in him a lifelong love for the written word. To this day, we visit our local library at least once a week, leaving with a stack of books nearly as tall as he is.
Our local branch’s book club for kids has introduced my son and I to beautifully written stories such as Extra Yarn and The Dot, while random searches on the shelves have led us to some of our favorites: Peanut Butter and Brains, The Monster Who Ate My Peas, and The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore (the first book my six-year-old analyzed in depth).
We also frequently borrow library DVDs for our family movie nights: Monsters Vs. Aliens, Madagascar, The Secret Life of Pets, Aladdin, Bambi, and even Coraline, which completely freaked my son out and gave him nightmares. Oops. Luckily, he held it against the film itself and not libraries (or me).
In addition to children’s books, I’ve been using my card to take a deeper dive into the world of short stories. Thanks to my library’s vast collection, I’ve borrowed physical and e-copies of Pushcart Prize books as well as flash fiction collections. I also got my hands on a brand-new, never-read copy of Stephen King’s The Outsider just a few weeks after its release date; borrowing it from the library rather than buying it from Amazon saved me $20, room on my bookshelf, and packaging that would have to be tossed.
You Get a Freebie! And You Get a Freebie!
OK, so libraries can’t hand out cars a la Oprah, but the number of items you can borrow free-of-charge is pretty incredible.
Access to materials beyond physical books, including e-books, audiobooks, magazines and newspapers (both physical and digital), DVDs, and CDs. Based on community needs, some libraries go even further, lending household tools, board games, children toys, telescopes, and other miscellaneous goods.
Research resources, including newspaper archives, reference books, digitized images, scholarly journals, rare manuscripts, and sites such as Ancestry.com, Britannica, Biography Reference Center, and Consumer Reports.
In addition, libraries provide numerous benefits that extend beyond tangible items:
Community-building events, such as book clubs, film screenings, art exhibitions, author talks, yoga classes, drum circles, arts and crafts, poetry readings, theater performances, ice cream socials… Library calendars are chock full of events to serve people of all ages and interests.
WiFi and workspace, providing remote workers with a cheap alternative to coffee shops and a less lonely environment than a home office.
Free access to office equipment, including computers, printers, faxes, and scanners.
A safe, healthy environment for kids to learn, interact, and play —from story time and toys to book clubs and after-school programs.
This list is only a fraction of what most libraries provide.
It is a list of offerings that would vanish should Mourdoukoutas’ wish become reality.
Amazon exists to provide stuff and to make money. Amazon is not a community builder. It’s not a benefit provider. It doesn’t enrich dialogue or engage the public.
Many years from now when I look back on my life, I won’t have sweet memories of Amazon purchases. I won’t remember the time I spent ordering items through Amazon Prime, or the joy I got ripping open the cardboard box that ultimately had to be thrown away.
I will, however, remember my son snuggled in the arms of a giant stuffed bear at our local library while I read him a Curious George story. I will remember childhood walks to the local branch with my Nana and the librarian who always knew exactly what books would interest me. I’ll remember the teen novels I borrowed over and over again, reading them as if for the first time, and the moment my son grabbed a book off the shelf and read it, word for word, by himself.
So no, Panos Mourdoukoutas, Amazon should not replace local libraries. In my opinion, nothing should.