Last week, an apparently masochistic economist released an opinion piece on Forbes’ website arguing that in the name of saving taxpayers money and helping Amazon stockholders, public libraries should be replaced with Amazon bookstores. A vocal army of library defenders, including patrons, librarians, authors, and common sense enthusiasts, promptly rose up on the Internet to eviscerate the author’s steaming hot take and spark the eventual removal of the article, which reads like a hastily written high school English assignment for which no time was made for research, substantiation of claims, or, you know, compelling writing, from Forbes (an archived version may still be found here).
My unflattering characterization of the article’s writing aside, I’m not here to pile on; plenty of others have already deftly made the case for why the author’s idea is a bad one: buying all the books one wants to read would cost more than the tax dollars one spends on libraries, libraries provide invaluable help to the underserved and underprivileged, bookstores don’t and can’t offer all of the educational, enriching, and entertaining programs and events libraries do, libraries are rare institutions that exist solely to help in a world in which most everywhere else has either a blatant or underlying moneymaking agenda, etc. Library users and supporters already know these things (bless you for it!), and I know that in this space, I’m preaching to the choir.
So, in the wake of the reaction to this spectacularly bad idea (not piling on, just throwing some elbows while the ref’s not looking), rather than echo a defense of libraries, I’d like to encourage library fans, whether you’re in Benbrook or elsewhere, to spread the word about what libraries do and why you value them. At BPL in particular, we have thousands of wonderful patrons who know what the library offers and utilize our services regularly, but as the publication of the Forbes article has made clear, there are people out there, undoubtedly many of them (I assure you, while backlash to the article was strong, its author is not alone in his views), who are out of touch with or otherwise unconvinced of the value of libraries. Library lovers spiritedly shot this particular article down, and we can laugh off how ridiculous the notion of Amazon replacing libraries is, but there will almost certainly come a day (federal cuts to library funding have been attempted before and will be attempted again) when actions and initiatives from those who deny the utility of libraries will pose serious threats to the their continued existence.
At BPL and libraries everywhere, part of the jobs of library staffs is to do everything reasonably possible to both anticipate and be responsive to community needs and wants in order to provide maximum value to our users, and it’s also our job to spread awareness of all the (hopefully) awesome things we’re doing in our efforts to serve and prove valuable. While I don’t want to ask you to do our jobs, in order to survive and thrive long-term, libraries need as many advocates as they can get. You don’t have to go door-to-door, canvas the town, or shout it from the rooftops (though if you want to be hardcore like that, power to you), but casual words of endorsement/support/recommendation (basically the opposite of anything Leslie Knope would say on the subject, but with the full-throated passion of Leslie Knope) to friends, family, neighbors, and especially library skeptics are helpful and massively appreciated. We know some of you are already vocal library advocates, and this is how we feel about you.
Library lovers know how indispensable libraries are; let’s make sure everybody else does, too.