Libraries Replaced by Amazon? We Think Not...
Now you’ve gone and done it.
You, Mr. Panos Mourdoukoutas, have roused the ire of public librarians hither and yon.
Why all the fuss? Of course, it was the article you wrote in the July "Forbes" magazine titled “Amazon Should Replace Local Libraries To Save Taxpayers Money.”
That certainly got the librarians’ attention here at MidPointe Library system in Southwest Ohio. They’re avid readers, you know.
As expected, the librarians were a tad irritated when you impressed upon your readers that libraries are dinosaurs slogging through the Age of Amazon and cozy Wi-Fi coffee shops. But being librarians, their irritation was characteristically understated, in a librarian kind of way.
But make no mistake. The outrage is there. After all, about public libraries you wrote : “...they don’t have the same value they used to.” Really, Mr. Mourdoukoutas?
First you assert that Amazon, the online colossus, “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….”
Then, after extolling the services libraries have provided through the years while operating on tax dollars, you say that libraries “don’t have the same value they used to.” What gives?
You cite the popularity of coffee cafes and similar establishments with WiFi access as the reason why “some people have started using their loyalty card at Starbucks more than they use their library card.” Point taken, Mr. Mourdoukoutas.
You mention streaming services like Netflix and Amazon Prime, saying they “provide TV and movie content to the masses at an affordable rate…”
You refer to digital technology that has “turned physical books into collector’s items, effectively eliminating the need for library borrowing services…”
Whew! That’s a lot to respond to.
Let’s start with Amazon. Believe it or not, we have nothing against Amazon. In fact, many libraries -- including MidPointe -- are Amazon customers. In fact, we just announced that one of our online media platforms, Hoopla, now supports Amazon’s virtual assistant Alexa. That’s music to our patrons’ ears.
To shed a little light on this subject, we refer to Patrick “PC” Sweeney, political director of the EveryLibrary Institute, a library support organization. We think he offers the best response to your article : “...libraries and Amazon are simply not in competition.”
He explains : “Libraries make significant purchases from Amazon for everything from books to Post-It notes. Many of our services like Overdrive use Amazon as its content delivery system. And, if you want to sign up for Amazon Smile, you can add the EveryLibrary Institute or your local library as one of your recipients when you make purchases from Amazon Smile.”
Now...when it comes to Starbucks and other coffee cafes, you maintain they offer the public a “comfortable place to read, surf the web, meet their friends and associates, and enjoy a great drink…”
That’s true, Mr. Mourdoukoutas, but you may have forgotten : we also provide those things. However, you’re right about the drink. They’ve got us there.
But we digress. Since money’s the big issue here, let’s talk about funding.
Over the past two decades Ohio libraries have faced reduced funding. We at MidPointe have adjusted accordingly. Today in our service area the owner of a $100,000 home pays about $22 a year for the library and all of its services. That’s less than the cost of one hardback book.
According to Sweeney, “libraries cost the average American taxpayer over 18 years old just $4.50 per month.”
He compares that cost to an Amazon Prime subscription which he says “alone is nearly double that price and you get very little for free with that subscription because you still have to buy books or pay more to gain access to premium goods or services.”
So what do taxpayers get at MidPointe Library for their hard-earned tax dollars?
Let’s start with online access available within the library as well as the comfort of home.
Just visit www.midpointelibrary.org > eLibrary and you may be surprised at the depth and breadth of our offerings in the following categories : eBooks, eMagazines, Research Databases, Music, Movies & TV Shows and Digital Archives (local history).
Our vast research database includes the following categories : academic and professional, business and investing, science and technology, art, genealogy and local history, literature and books, test and career preparation, auto repair, government and law, magazines and newspapers, biography and history, health and medical, and reference.
One of those databases alone can include thousands of pieces of information.
Take Lynda.com, for instance. One of our newer platforms, this site offers 6,000-plus courses in software training, business expertise and creative skills for work, school or personal development. That’s a lot of learning in the comfort of your own home.
You’ll also find these popular sites:
Hoopla -- Offering hundreds of thousands of free movies, TV shows, full music albums, audiobooks, eBooks, comics and more. (Remember, Hoopla now supports Amazon’s Alexa).
Ohio Digital Library - Offering downloadable movies and videos as well as eBooks.
cloudLibrary -- Offering hundreds of popular eBooks and eAudiobooks with additional titles added weekly,
SearchOhio lending consortium -- An online way to access millions of items from across the state that we do not currently have in our collection. You don’t have to travel many miles to obtain an item we don’t have. Just click on the item you want. It’s delivered to us. We inform you when it’s ready for pickup. Can’t get any easier than that.
We’ve only scratched the surface when it comes to our online existence, Mr. Mourdoukoutas.
Now let’s discuss brick and mortar. If you’re in the area, please stop by any of our four (soon to be five) locations. There you’ll find pleasant environments, comfortable seating and plenty of computers for adults and children. Our patrons deserve no less.
You’ll also see :
The very latest best-selling fiction and non-fiction for all ages, as well as the works of many local authors. Our non-fiction sections cover just about every subject imaginable. We also have reference material, DVDs, CDs, audiobooks, video games, magazines and local and national newspapers. All of these, with the exception of Reference and newspapers, are available for checkout. Just click “Catalog Search,” type a title, phrase or subject and see what we have.
Study carrels, large work tables, interesting artwork, a community room for guest speakers and programs and, last but not least, convenient parking and easy access for those with mobility issues.
Programming for all ages and interests. Our last official program count, in 2014, revealed that over 2,000 programs for all ages were presented among all our locations. Guest speakers, entertainers, four-legged visitors, yoga, technology, genealogy, current events, sketching and painting -- the variety never ends. You name it. We’ve probably had a program covering it.
Our long-running and highly successful Summer Reading program for all ages. This annual event -- now a tradition for many families -- promotes a love of reading. Prizes are awarded for items read. Special guests, both human and animal, attract kids and adults alike. This year Summer Reading hosted music concerts featuring local talent at each MidPointe location.
A “Read Local” event at our West Chester branch that introduces the public to local published authors.
The Ohio Room and Local History and Genealogy Gallery at our Middletown location is a goldmine for history buffs and genealogists. In fact, the complete package of Ancestry.com is available for use on site. History is big around here.
Meetings rooms that can be reserved online, a service that’s popular with many community and local author groups.
Access to teacher cards that give educators access to material for their classrooms.
Print, copy, fax and scanning services.
And last but certainly not least...REAL LIVE LIBRARIANS who can help you find what you’re looking for.
But wait, Mr. Mourdoukoutas! There’s more! Did you know that we also serve patrons who are unable to visit our locations? That’s called “Outreach service” and we’re happy to oblige. Our Outreach department includes:
Our Bookmobile, a new branch that’s literally a “Library on Wheels.” This brightly colored vehicle takes books, DVDs, magazines and more to at least 200,000 children, teens, young adults and adults in our service area (Middletown, West Chester, Trenton, Monroe and Madison, Wayne, St. Clair and Liberty townships).
Librarian visits to schools and community centers to engage young people in the joy of reading.
Delivery of material to the homes of patrons who are not physically able to visit the library.
Learn-a-craft visits to residents of assisted and nursing facilities.
Mr. Mourdoukoutas, “to be fair” you do report that “library surveys do not seem to confirm the idea that public libraries don’t have the value they used to.”
You cite a Pew Research Center survey that finds that “Millennials are the most likely generations to use public libraries. Though it isn’t clear whether ‘public libraries’ are community libraries or school libraries…And what the trend is among this group.”
Continuing, you write : “The survey also finds that ‘In-person library use in the US remains fairly stable’ for the period 2012-16. At least that’s the title of one of their charts. But a reading of the chart is different: Library usage dropped from 53 percent to 46 percent over the same period…”
In conclusion you write, “Apparently, more data are needed to confirm a trend. But the opportunity for Amazon to enhance shareholder value remains.”
Yes, Mr. Mourdoukoutas, citizens do pay for the local library with their hard-earned taxes. Yes, Amazon is arguably the biggest success story on the planet. And yes, who wouldn’t love a Starbucks espresso right about now?
But we respectfully counter that sometimes the local, human touch -- coupled with a good product and good service -- can be just what the consumer ordered.
To offer anything less on our part would be folly and just plain wrong.