Amazon should not be the library

Edit (7/24/2018): Quartz reports that Forbes has pulled the article.

If you haven’t seen it yet, Forbes ran an article suggesting Amazon should replace the public library as a way to save taxpayer money. This is a bad take from anyone, but particularly from the Chair of the Economics Department at LIU Post. Apparently the good professor does not realize that Amazon exists to make money, so there’s a good chance that savings would be funded in part by a loss of service and local accountability.

Or maybe he doesn’t realize poor people exist. Or even that the well off sometimes like to have public spaces where they are allowed to exist without having to buy something. When I was a kid our house wasn’t air conditioned. On hot summer days, my mom would take us to the county library. We could sit and read in comfort for a few hours and no one cared.

I’d check out a dozen or more books. A few weeks later, I’d bring them back and get abkther armful. Imagine how much my parents would have had to spend on Amazon. And libraries don’t just provide books. Ours had music and movies and paintings available for checkout. It had genealogy records and newspapers. It had meeting spaces and community programs. If the Internet had been widespread then, it would have had that, too.

My current local library has digital subscriptions in both text and audio format. It has state park passes available for checkout. It has a mobile library to visit the elderly, infirm, and others who can’t make it to one of the three branches in the county. If there was profit to be made in doing all of this on a broad scale, Jeff Bezos would be doing it already.

A library is more than just the books. It’s a part of the community. Removing it from the commons in favor of a private corporation is a terrible idea. My friend Doug explained it well a year ago.

Everyone, just by the act of existing, gets aceess to this valuable resource at the cost of a fraction of a percent of the assessed value of local property. A few years ago, I looked at the detail of my property tax bill and realized I was getting way more value out of my library than I paid for. So I started donating to the library foundation. If Professor Mourdourkoutas can’t get more value from his library than he puts in, that’s on him.

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