In Defense of Libraries: 4 Reasons to Love Public Libraries

7.23.2018

Seattle Public Library, photo by Sylvia Yang on Unsplash

In a (now-deleted) article published yesterday, Forbes columnist and economist Panos Mourdoukoutas asserted that Amazon bookstores should replace public libraries to eliminate library taxes. This short-sighted proposal would deprive community residents of a safe space to read, research, think, interact with others, or even escape the elements. So, in defense of libraries, here are four reasons public libraries remain necessary.

1. Libraries provide access to resources.

Through access to resources, including educational programs for visitors and shelter for lower-income residents, the library can uplift the community. Some of these resources include:

  • Internet connection as well as computers to access the Internet, critical for those who may not own a device to access the internet
  • Books and research materials for students and anyone hoping to learn something new or explore another world 
  • Classes on a variety of subjects to teach new skills, foster new hobbies, or encourage community bonding. My local library offers introduction to technology for elderly residents, resume-building for those seeking employment, beginners' yoga as an alternative to a class that might require payment or a gym membership, and English for those learning the language.
  • Clubs and programs to encourage love of reading and improve skills. Book clubs allow readers to discuss new reads in addition to meeting new people and developing critical thinking and public speaking abilities. Summer reading programs, often offering rewards for submitting reading logs, cultivate excited young readers.
  • Access to databases 
  • A safe space that provides shelter from the elements and does not compel one to buy something for using the space

Each of these resources are important to a variety of community members, especially the underprivileged. In a survey, the Pew Internet and American Life Project found that 95% of Americans 16 and older recognize that resources at public libraries help to provide opportunity for all people. Minority and lower-income participants were more likely than wealthier participants to rate library services as "very important".

2. Libraries help build communities.

In his book, The Great Good Place, sociologist Ray Oldenburg points to the necessity of "third places", areas outside the home and the workplace, in community development. In a Brookings Institution blog post, writers Marcela and Stuart Butler expand on this idea by asserting that public libraries make healthy communities. By offering a place that does not compel one to make a purchase to use the facility, the public library plays a significant role for the underprivileged. Also, because libraries often host community programs, they create a culture of trust and acceptance within a community.

 3. The rise of technology does not make libraries obsolete.

Mourdoukoutas argued that new technology essentially makes physical books "collector's items", rendering public libraries outdated and unnecessary. Again, he fails to realize that the library provides programs for the community beyond lending physical books (although physical books remain the most popular reading format, according to Pew Research Center), and that many libraries have adopted lending e-books and audiobooks to accommodate readers preferring different book formats. In 2017, libraries and schools borrowed over 225 million digital titles from Overdrive, a reading platform, lending record numbers of e-books and audiobooks.

4. The return exceeds the cost.

The availability of resources, variety of programs, and ability to unite the community make maintaining public libraries worth the cost.

In his piece, Mourdoukoutas neglected the fact that not everyone can afford to purchase a new book or resource from an Amazon bookstore.

As a current high school student, this idea rings especially true. To illustrate my point, consider that one of my assignments in English class this year was to complete a researched argument paper. In my essay, I drew from 30 sources, including two books and sources from two journals and two databases. Had I not utilized the resources from my school library, research for my paper, including cost of books, journal article access, and database accounts would have cost more than  $140.86* (I was particularly surprised to find that accessing a complete article from the Howard Journal of Communications would have cost me $42.50, for 24 hour online access!) This paper was not the only school assignment I had last school year that required me to conduct academic research; if I had to pay the price for each resource I used, I could not afford to research.

*I could not find the price of a Gale database account for an individual, so I did not add this cost.

Additionally, while public libraries do require community members to pay taxes, the amount will vary based on one's income: a poor person will not pay the same tax as a wealthy person. These tax dollars are not wasted-- that amount ultimately serves to better a community and the well-being of all. In fact, 94% of Americans find the public library to "improve quality of life" within a community.


Clearly, public libraries are an asset to communities and ought to be supported. 

Knowledge is power. Education paired with access to resources and a free exchange of ideas can enhance development, at both the individual and group levels. In the United States, public libraries, equipped with these resources, empower communities.

Tell me: what are some reasons you love your local library?

4 comments :

  1. Totally agree with everything you said here. I utilize my library all the time, not just for checking out physical books, but also using their ebook system, laptops, and even just finding out info in the community! My library has a great bulletin board where people can keep up with local news and find help within the community. It is like a second home for a lot of people.

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  2. As a former employee of my local public library, I have VERY strong feelings about this topic. Even though I love my library for the books, it is so much more than just a place to read. For many kids in the summer, it is a safe place to be that encourages reading and thought. There are countless programs that increase literacy, community, and overall quality of life. The children's librarian at my library holds classes for all kids (from birth to middle school and even throughout high school) to keep everyone involved. Closing down libraries in favor of Amazon bookstores is an extremely privileged view that ignores a majority of the public and their needs.

    Sorry about my ramblings, but your discussion really got me thinking! I like how you did your research and all of your links.

    Tessa @ Crazy for YA

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  3. It boggles my mind how someone could even suggest replacing libraries. I just visited the Boston Public Library last week on a trip, and it is a hub of technology, community, and equality that is unheard of in most areas. I maybe biased--I have always loved and found support at libraries--but to think that an Amazon feature could live up to the benefits the community receives from having a public space for learning is just naive.

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  4. I agree completely with these reasons! Libraries are so important, and they're a wonderful resource for all. Glad you wrote this post. It's lovely to see what others think about libraries and the reading community.

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