Why Amazon Can Never Replace the Public Library

Amazon should open their own bookstores in all local communities. They can replace local libraries and save taxpayers lots of money, while enhancing the value of their stock.”

The arguments against ‘ position are so obvious that I almost feel patronizing spelling them out.  After all, why should I pay Amazon money instead of paying far less to use my local library?  Amazon has a demonstrated track record of hurting publishers and authors (and thus, in the long run, readers).  Bookstores are undeniably beneficial to communities–but I see no particular reason why wants me to increase the value of Amazon’s stock instead of allowing me to spend my money at Barnes and Noble, Books a Million, a local indie, or any other bookstore that I believe (or hope) practices better business ethics.

Furthermore, is ignoring the glaringly obvious fact that libraries exist to provide equal access.  That is, they provide education and entertainment to people who cannot afford to buy all their books; who cannot afford to buy all their movies or music; who cannot afford to pay for Internet access for streaming, job searching, coursework, etc.; and who cannot afford a car to get onto the highway to the nearest Starbucks to pay for some of the nation’s priciest coffee.  The suggestion that we pay Amazon for all the books we currently receive practically free from libraries* forgets that people with lower incomes exist.  The suggestion that we can all drive to Starbucks forgets that libraries are typically located in central, easy-to-access areas (often with bus access) while a cafe might not.  It also forgets that cafes like people to buy things, whereas libraries allow patrons to enter and stay all day free.  Finally, it forgets that people in rural areas might not have a fancy cafe to study in, while they might still have a library.

Besides, cafes do not truly provide the same experience as libraries.  Libraries offer patrons free Wi-Fi, computers, and scanners.  They also typically provide faxing, copying, and printing services (for a small fee).  Library workers will help patrons troubleshoot devices and learn how to navigate the computer.  I have seen librarians help patrons learn how to point and click with a mouse, guide them through recovering a lost email password, show them how to use Facebook and Twitter, guide them to job search engines, proofread documents, and print out tax documents.  Starbucks only offers Wi-Fi and their employees are not likely to spend 20-30 minutes helping customers download their pay stubs. 

In the way, Amazon stores cannot truly replace a library.  Of course, there is the major difference that Amazon requires customers to buy books (and encourages them to buy Prime on top of it) while libraries do not.  Amazon sales associates, however, are presumably not research specialists.  Enter with a question such as, “Do you have a picture book about X topic similar to Y title that I can read aloud to preschoolers” and they may or may not have an answer, preschool story times not being a major part of their business.  Fielding inquiries such as “What is an appropriate book to introduce the Holocaust to a fifth grader?” or “What are some repetitive picture books I can read to a day camp?” may also be outside their expertise as sales associates may not often think about how to use their merchandise in various educational settings.

Fortunately, libraries are not as obsolete as might have us believe.  The people he knows may very well purchase all their books and hang out at Starbucks instead of public libraries.  His Twitter profile states he is Professor and Chair of the Department of Economics at LIU Post and I can well believe that a number of academics (at least the tenured ones) have enough money to do these things.  However, his experience does not necessarily represent the United States as a whole.  The Pew Research Center provides the numbers:

A new analysis of Pew Research Center survey data from fall 2016 finds that 53% of Millennials (those ages 18 to 35 at the time) say they used a library or bookmobile in the previous 12 months. That compares with 45% of Gen Xers, 43% of Baby Boomers and 36% of those in the Silent Generation

The report goes on to say that 46% of adults said they went to the public library in the past 12 months.  Those numbers are nothing to sneer at.  Nearly half of American adults went to the library.  Libraries are alive and well!

It is true that libraries cost taxpayers money–but that is the point.  Taxes are a way for the community to combine their purchasing power to fund something that benefits the community as a whole.  Currently I pay less than $20 a year in local taxes for my library–under the cost of one book.  Since I read about 100 books a year, this is a steal.  I would gladly pay much more in taxes if it meant my library could purchase more materials, extend their hours, increase wages for the dedicated staff, and attract bigger programs.  As far as I am concerned, the library tax is some of the best use my city makes of my tax dollars.  If we do not want to spend taxpayer money on giving equal access to the community, in allowing students to complete their homework, in enabling immigrants to learn a new language, in promoting literacy and STEM among children, and in giving the homeless population a safe/cool/warm place to stay during the day–exactly what should we spend our taxpayer money on?

*Yes, I know that libraries are not technically free because tax dollars fund them.  However, since I pay under $20 a year for the library, I can check out one movie or one book and already have saved money.  After that, every book I borrow is free to me.  Even if I paid $100 a year, I could check out five books or DVDs and then be reading or viewing free.  Libraries are a true bargain.

Update

Forbes has removed the article.

“Across the country, if public libraries were to be cut and all funding were to be divided up among Americans, each person would get $36 back, says Richard Auxier, a researcher at the Tax Policy Center think tank.”

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56 thoughts on “Why Amazon Can Never Replace the Public Library

    • Krysta says:

      I have yet to see anyone who agrees with him…. I don’t understand what he thinks taxes are for if not for the public good. I don’t mind paying taxes if they go to useful things–like libraries! If we cut library funding, I’m sure I’d be taxed the same and my money would go somewhere less ideal.

      Liked by 1 person

      • whatsnonfiction says:

        I know, it doesn’t make any sense. Is Amazon funding him or something? I can only assume he doesn’t patronize libraries himself so naturally assumes no one else does either and better to spend tax dollars on big corporations. Gross. And agreed, I’m happy to pay towards a public service that does so many wonderful things. I haven’t seen any agreements either, maybe this was just some bizarre trolling to get a reaction? I don’t even know anymore.

        Like

        • Krysta says:

          Someone else asked me if Amazon is funding him, too. It’s just bizarre. Why is he advocating for Amazon of all places? What’s wrong with Barnes and Noble? XD

          I’m glad to see Forbes removed the article! It’s not even a decent financial argument when you consider how low library funding is and that, as tons of people have pointed out on Twitter, you’d just end up paying sales tax to Amazon, anyway.

          Liked by 1 person

          • whatsnonfiction says:

            There’s a lot of bad to be said about Barnes and Noble, unfortunately…they recently had major layoffs and let go of any full-time employee that wasn’t a manager (I think that was the criteria), many of whom had been at the company for years and years. They’ve focused more on gifty items and tchotchkes than books, and of course the bottom line for their board and executives.
            I think it’s best to support smaller/independent bookstores whenever possible as they really struggle, but for many cities/regions of course that’s hard! Anyway I’m so glad the article was removed! I can’t believe Forbes even published it in the first place. And you’re right, the economics weren’t sound at all. Ridiculous.

            Like

            • Krysta says:

              Yeah, I read about the layoffs. I think it was a silly business decision to let go of some of their longest and most dedicated employees. Part-time workers often stay with a company–they move to a full-time job. The idea was to save money because B&N reports losses all the time, but I can’t say I would have chosen to cut costs on service.

              That being said, Amazon has a track record of bullying publishers and authors into selling at prices that doesn’t allow them to make money. Amazon actually sells books at a loss because they sell a bunch of other random stuff. They have also switched the main “buy” button so consumers can purchase unawares from a third party–and often these third parties are selling stolen books so the publisher and the author get no money from the sale, even though you assume the main buy button buys from the publisher.

              In other words, I think B&N makes silly business decisions, but they don’t have a decade worth of newspaper articles detailing shady ethics like Amazon does. Since B&N is the last major competitor to B&N and I, like a good many Americans, don’t have a local indie bookstore to support anymore because it went out of business, I have to support B&N over Amazon.

              Liked by 1 person

  1. deborahkehoe says:

    Who is this fool that suggested that? Oh my gosh! I check out ebooks with my Library card through my Overdrive app and it saves me probably thousands of dollars a year. His argument doesn’t sound very thought out and is pretty foolish, really! Wow. Thanks for making me aware this was even being discussed!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Krysta says:

      He’s an economics professor. So I find it surprising he doesn’t realize I spend far less on the library tax than I would buying all my books, movies, music, and classes… :S

      Liked by 1 person

      • deborahkehoe says:

        Crazy! I’ve also been to some great book signings out our local library, and even vote there! There are so many uses for the library beyond even reading. Thanks for the discussion!

        Like

        • Krysta says:

          Exactly! Mine offers free tutoring for students, language learning software, DIY courses, yoga, community forums…the list goes on and on! Amazon isn’t going to give me all that free!

          Liked by 1 person

  2. ashley says:

    This was such a great post. I can’t believe someone actually thinks that about libraries. What some people fail to realize is that libraries provide more than just books.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Krysta says:

      It’s unfathomable. I’m still not sure if the author believes what he wrote or was just trying to be edgy and get massive page views. :/ Either way, I haven’t seen anyone yet who agrees with him. A lot of the Twitter responses are pointing out that taxes are good when used to benefit the public and that saying we should get rid of libraries to save a few measly personal tax dollars sounds very wrong.

      Like

      • ashley says:

        It really is wrong, it doesn’t cost that much in taxes for libraries to operate. And libraries make money in other ways besides taxes. Printing, copying, and fax fees, and library book sales are other ways that libraries bring in money.

        Like

  3. Kim @ Traveling in Books says:

    My librarian friends are always telling me about the events and services they offer or are starting to offer or want to offer– for free!– for their patrons, many of them for low income. Music classes, business classes, ‘how to use your computer/device’ classes. The computer lab is almost always full when I’m there, we have an excellent summer reading program, ‘Read to a Dog’ days for children, book clubs, after school activities, tax services, etc. And then there are things like books and DVDs and music CDs and sheet music and ukeleles (yes, you can check a ukelele out from my city’s library) and and and….

    Has this guy even been to a library lately? They are so relevant and used and needed and wonderful!

    Liked by 3 people

    • Krysta says:

      Exactly! I seriously doubt Amazon is going to offer all that free! It’s not worth saving a small amount of tax dollars and losing all of these services! That makes no economic sense to me!

      Liked by 2 people

  4. ireadthatinabook says:

    That’s just weird. I can sort of see how some people that don’t use libraries don’t want to pay for them but to say that their services can be replaced by Amazon doesn’t make any sense.

    Like

    • Krysta says:

      I see the point of taxes as paying for the public good. There are roads I don’t drive on, but I still would want to pay taxes for them because good roads benefit the community as a whole. The same with libraries. And typically library taxes are small. I am sure there are other taxes we could cut first!

      Liked by 1 person

      • ireadthatinabook says:

        Oh, I completely agree, I don’t mind paying taxes for common benefits (which is a good thing as I live in a social democracy with comparatively high taxes). However, I can understand (while disagreeing with) someone who argues for lower taxes if they accept that it in most cases leads to worse services. After all a democratic society ought to have discussions on what services we want and are willing to pay tax for (personally I certainly want to pay tax for libraries!). What I found especially weird here was that he seemed unaware (or ignored) all the things libraries do as you pointed out. He didn’t argue for less tax and worse services but for less tax and the same services which seems very ignorant and/or misleading.

        Like

        • Krysta says:

          Yeah, there are local officials around where I live who try to pull library funding every year because they personally don’t use the library. I find it bizarre since they’re supposed to be representing everyone, not just wealthy people like themselves.

          I don’t even know where this article came from! It was so misinformed! I’m glad Forbes removed it. I’m surprised they published it in the first place.

          Liked by 1 person

    • Krysta says:

      He seems not to understand the point of taxes. I don’t have a problem with paying taxes in general. They’re supposed to benefit the community at large. I don’t think we need to cut taxes for the sake of cutting taxes.

      Liked by 1 person

    • Krysta says:

      The financial argument doesn’t even make sense. Libraries don’t get that much funding. And paying taxes isn’t intrinsically a problem. We pay taxes to benefit the community. Libraries fall under that criteria.

      I could also save money by not buying food or paying rent, but that would obviously be a silly way to cut costs. I’m glad Forbes removed the article.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. looloolooweez says:

    Initial outrage aside, I think this article — or at least the Forbes editors’ decision to run it — is ultimately nothing more than trolling. I wonder if some publications keep a handful of these “Libraries Are Dead (Or Should Be)” articles sitting in a drawer for when they want a pageviews boost for no intellectual effort.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Briana | Pages Unbound says:

      I kind of wondered about this, too. Weirdly, the author seems very defensive of it on Twitter. But maybe responding with “Did you even read the article?” to everyone who disagrees with him is also trolling because it just seems ridiculous that a professor would go around thinking, “Clearly everyone who disagrees with me didn’t read the article. Obviously, if they’d read it, we’d agree on this matter!” (Not to mention the title of the article basically sums it up, so I’m not sure you really *do* have to read it anyway.)

      I think the same thing about the “YA is trash!” articles though. Are people just publishing them to make people mad and get traffic?

      Like

  6. The Cozy Pages says:

    It boggles the mind that such an article was written to begin with… really does seem as if it was a cheap shot to generate traffic. Excellent post anyway on the intrinsic value of libraries! I really enjoyed.

    Like

  7. Stephanie says:

    Okay, I didn’t actually get to read the article but I’ve seen some of this guy’s tweets and I just… My mind is baffled. I don’t use the library much at the moment but even if I had never and would never use one, that is one of the few things I have no problem providing tax money for. The tax issue can be solved in much better ways. Taking away libraries just hurts people. Libraries are there for people who don’t have the means to access all of the many resources they provide! I’d absolutely ludicrous to suggest cutting them to bring taxes down. Besides, we all know that money would just get spent elsewhere, it wouldn’t actually go back to the tax payers.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. spicejac says:

    Loved your comments:
    If we do not want to spend taxpayer money on giving equal access to the community, in allowing students to complete their homework, in enabling immigrants to learn a new language, in promoting literacy and STEM among children, and in giving the homeless population a safe/cool/warm place to stay during the day–exactly what should we spend our taxpayer money on?

    We need to think of Libraries as places of public good – that by us all subsidising them, we enable everyone to have access these services. By supporting a user pays system like Amazon, immediately disadvantages the proportion of society who can’t afford to spend on items because they’re having a hard enough time making ends meet, and putting food on the table.

    Libraries, especially where I live, support the disadvantaged, and provide safe community hubs for everyone…..they are the true democratic spaces of our community.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Krysta says:

      Apparently he’s the chair of the economics dept. at LIU Post. But there’s not even a good economic reason to stop funding libraries since they receive that many tax dollars in the first place. I’m sure there are actual areas we could cut taxes. Equal access to education isn’t the first place I would look. I find it odd an academic would suggest lower-income people don’t need educational resources!

      Liked by 1 person

  9. Fanna says:

    Thank you for writing this! It’s important for everyone to understand how ignorant one can look while stating such views and for renowned names like Forbes. I really don’t understand how such statements even make it through without a revision. But on the other hand, I’m happy it does because how would we know about the worst opinions people hold. Libraries are the only source of book for a majority of the world, and nothing can replace them ❤

    Like

    • Krysta says:

      I can’t believe Forbes published this! I can easily imagine some disgruntled person doesn’t like paying taxes for a library since he’s wealthy enough not to use it. But there’s no good economic reason to cut taxes for libraries. Most libraries don’t receive that much tax funding in the first place. My library hasn’t received any increased funding from the state and local governments in nearly a decade. Meanwhile, prices for everything they offer rise.

      Like

  10. Sammie says:

    All your points are absolutely brilliant! I love in one of the poorest counties in my (also extremely poor) state, and I know plenty of people who have neither a computer nor Internet at their house.

    The library is a great equalizer. Books are expensive. Especially kid’s books. I mean, how long does it take to get through a cardboard book? But that mess is $3 – $7, and studies have proven how beneficial it is for young children to be read to. Half our library is dedicated to children, and for very good reason: having access to books is important to people’s development. In so many ways.

    Beyond just the books, though, our town is TINY. The library is the hub for pretty much everything in town. It’s where kids hang out after school, and they have at least one activity a week for kids to engage them and get them excited about different things. We have VA representatives come, chair yoga for the older crowd (the demographics in our county and library patrons in particular definitely skew towards older people). They’re an important resource for printing, faxing, and just figuring out how the heck to use technology (which a lot of people in our county just legitimately don’t know how to do). They’ve also got a Bookmobile for the housebound.

    If our library disappeared, I’d wager our town would probably start to collapse if there was nothing to fill that void. That’s how important it is at this point.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Krysta says:

      I think people who don’t use the library (like this guy, apparently) simply don’t understand how other people live. He’s probably a tenured academic who hangs out with higher income people who all have access to everything they need. But if you go to the library, you do see that, no, not everyone in the U.S. has Internet access or a device to access the Internet. A good many of library patrons I have seen can’t use a mouse let alone access a browser and type in an address, check email, set up a Facebook account, etc. Take away the library and where are they supposed to get free Internet access plus free technical support? I find it baffling an academic would ever suggest that certain segments of American society don’t need equal access to educational resources. Not to mention everything else the library provides!

      Liked by 1 person

      • Sammie says:

        I agree. What seems to be lacking a lot in society these days (which is, frankly, appalling considering how easy it is now to communicate with others) is just basic empathy. You get stuck in your way of life and forget that yours is not the only way, so what seems easy and matter-of-fact for you may become an insurmountable challenge for someone else.

        Like

        • Krysta says:

          Precisely! Paying taxes is not intrinsically bad. We all agree to pay taxes for the public good. His end argument seems to be that he pays $500/yr for the library. So basically he’s saying that he just doesn’t want to spend it to benefit the less fortunate in his community. But I think we all know that cutting the library tax wouldn’t actually mean we all get a bunch of money back. We’d just be taxed for something else eventually. So what does he want to spend it on? Is he suggesting that everything else he spends taxes on is better than promoting equal access? Because I find that difficult to believe.

          Liked by 1 person

          • Sammie says:

            I for sure know that my spending decisions are questionable. Did I need that expensive bacon for breakfast two times in one week? My heart says no, but my soul says yes. xD Honestly, I make a heck of a lot less than he does, guaranteed, and I would happily pay $500 or even $1,000 a year if it would benefit the people around me. Also, I would even up that to $2,000 a year if it would get me out of having to explain the difference between having an idea and having an ideal to half of my community, so it’s a win-win.

            ((I joke about it, but lack of emphasis on education and reading is a legitimate problem in my area, and our library does a darn good job of trying to combat that, despite everything.))

            Like

  11. Lara @ No, Mum, I'm Not A Millennial says:

    “Yes, libraries cost taxpayers money – but that is the point” – I absolutely laughed out loud at this sentence, but it pretty much sums up everything that’s questionable about the ‘we don’t need public services’ viewpoint. I get especially angry about those who say this about libraries, because, fine, I can accept that you might not use the public education system if you’ve finished school; I can accept that (in countries like the UK with a public health service) you might not use hospitals if you’re lucky enough not to get sick. But if you’re not using a local library when you have the means to get to one (and, judging by his level of education and income, the original writer certainly does) … that’s kind of your own fault.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Krysta says:

      I really don’t understand people who don’t use the library. You can check out ebooks and magazines online and even stream films at home. You don’t even have to set foot in the building to get your money’s worth back!

      Like

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