There has been a lot of buzz about the Forbes article with regards to the idea that Amazon bookstores should replace local libraries. If you haven’t already read the article, the link to it is here. To me, this would be a sad thing to see as a large amount of my childhood is heavily wrapped up in memories of my local library.
I have watched over the last several years as funding for library services has been reduced and reduced and then, finally, cut altogether. Beloved library branches have been closed permanently, and the ones able to remain open have been reduced to limited hours open to the public. For some people this makes sense, they have never had much need for the library, and certainly the world of books is readily accessible online. What could the outdated institution possibly have to offer the digital generation?
Memories. Hope. The awareness that an idea is enough to stir a generation to the love of knowledge.
As a child my grandmother introduced me to my love of reading and the ability to use my imagination to travel the worlds in the books I read. As a result, I found I had a voracious appetite for books, earning as many certificates a month as Pizza Hut allowed with their Book It program – which I am glad to see is still alive and well. The library enabled me to find new books, to always push myself into new worlds that I didn’t have access to otherwise. Running my hands over hard copy books made the worlds I was travelling seem more real somehow.
Through all of this, I think about the giant brick historical building that had been re-purposed to house our local library and the winding staircase I would wander as I picked my weekly stack of books, cutting my teeth on Agatha Christie’s Hercule Poirot, and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes. My heroes included Nancy Drew and Harriet Welsch (AKA Harriet the Spy) because they showed me the power books held for anyone, but especially for a shy girl who had trouble making friends. Finding these heroes was so incredibly important to me as a child because I was unsure of how to interact with people and finding worlds in the written word showed me that I could use the same power of words to express myself.
The article calls out the idea of reducing costs to taxpayers, but ultimately what this does is not reduce costs but increases them and removes the accessibility of worlds of knowledge from those that don’t have the money to visit the book store. It also calls out services like movie rentals that have been replaced by streaming services, and free internet access (being replaced by Starbucks?). Think and consider why users might need to utilize resources like the library instead of Hulu, Netflix, Amazon, Redbox, or Starbucks. While more people today have access to computers in their home, this does not account for everyone and the libraries help close that gap.
People who support this idea need to be aware that libraries do not just house books for knowledge, but also access to the community. Local libraries put on a variety of programs that include those for both adults and children to meet with others that share their interests in a safe, monitored space. Libraries offer a place for teens to complete volunteer work towards honor society and college applications. There are even programs hosted at some libraries to teach people to paint, play an instrument, or, in some cases, learn to read.
While I do not fear the idea of technology destroying the written word, I am afraid that we are losing sight of what a place like the library means to those that visit it. The worries that these walls might be replaced by corporate giants like Amazon and what this could mean to the next generations.