Director’s Notebook… Hope Cain, Director, Public Library


Did Amazon just replace the public library?

Now I enjoy like many of you. I can accrue items in my shopping cart and order when I’m ready. I always get exactly what I want, with fair prices and quick (free) shipping…what’s not to like?

The article “Did Amazon just replace the public library?” written by Megan Garber is something I just had to take to task. What does it say? What does it mean? Am I out of a job??

In 2 words…Don’t worry!

Megan writes about the opening of Amazon’s Amazon Books store in Seattle. “It has a Barnes & Noble feel and is an experiment of the merging of digital retail and physical. It’s set up to encourage patrons to hang out, spend time, and settle down.”

Megan states, “Amazon Books is a store doing the work of a cultural institution. It’s about commerce, yes, but it’s also about collectivity. It is, in form if not in name, a library. And its librarians are the same people who serve as curators for fellow customers.”

Megan, a customer is one who must spend money, not a patron who is welcome no matter if they have a dime in their pocket or not. Amazon is a retailer. They sell things at the touch of a button: books, household goods, jewelry…lots and lots of things. They offer pricy subscriptions: $100 per year Prime for 2 day shipping, movie streaming, music and photo storage; $10 per month (or $120 per year) Kindle Unlimited for unlimited ebooks – but guess what…it’s not really “prime” or “unlimited” is it?

Everyone is equal when entering a public library – no one has to buy anything. Just use the free services.  Our programs are free, our internet access is free, computer usage is free, cards are free, sitting and browsing  our books, newspapers or magazines is free, information is free at the front desk – Where is early voting? Can I get ebooks on my phone? I need to learn about breast cancer. My child is worried about bullies. How do I begin using a computer? I need help filling out an application online. How warm should I keep my neighbor’s full bred hairless Chinese Crested dogs if the weather is cold and my heat is off? How do I care for my new kitten? What is there to do in Sulphur Springs? Where is the water office?

Sulphur Springs Public Library staff is here to greet, assist, answer, listen, suggest, smile, listen and react to needs and current events in the community.  The building provides a safe friendly space for gathering, contains 2 local history museums/collections, a fun children’s area with local-made quilts, and a memorial brick walk in front showing the support this library received when being built.  We offer services to anyone: small business, individuals, groups, schools, military, students, handicapped, special needs, out of towners, all ages, and all types of people.  I don’t think Amazon Books can really and truly say all that!

Amazon has lots of stuff for purchase, but public libraries offer a value not equaled by Amazon.  We care, we smile, we listen… we are community!

How have libraries shaped our future like Amazon never can? Many Americans say that their libraries are important in their lives, they identified the library visits as positive experiences, parents believe libraries are important for their children, and that libraries develop a love of reading and books. – Information from 2013 Pew Research Center’s Internet and American Life Project.

Three general reasons American love their public libraries…1. Useful information they make accessible, 2. Public spaces they provide that help construct the community and 3. The literacy potential that reading, viewing and listening has to offer.

Libraries have shaped many individuals’ lives in such a way that their legacy can be felt many years later.

Thomas Edison would be “to sick to work” but could spend the entire day and evening reading books on electricity.  Wilbur and Orville Wright rekindled their interest in flight after discovering a book on birds and how they fly in their library.  Harry Truman says’” by the time I was 12 or 14 I have read every book in the Independence MO public library, including the encyclopedias…those books had a great influence on me.”  10 year old Martin Luther King Jr. looked forward to sharing what he learned with his librarian – new words, poems.  The interest the librarian took and their communication was vital to his view of the world.

It is the first step into responsibility and adulthood to have your own library card and the civic responsibility to respect public property. Captain Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger was concerned after he landed US Airways flight in New York’s Hudson River, about the library book he had onboard, “it might come back late, even water damaged”

Oprah Winfrey says reading was “an open door for freedom in my life” that “allowed me to see a world beyond my grandmother’s front porch in Mississippi”. After Sonia Sotomayor’s father died, she buried herself in reading and especially loved the Nancy Drew series. She became a keen observer and listener.

Information, space and literacy! Americans love their libraries for all these reasons – justification enough to encourage even more of our citizens to use these much loved community incubators of personal happiness and informal self-education.

Excerpts from Did Amazon Just Replace the Public Library? by Megan Garber, The Atlantic, Nov. 3, 2015.

Excerpts from Amazon will Never, Ever, Replace Libraries by Alex Gallo-Brown, Motherboard, Nov. 6 2015.

Excerpts from Why Americans Love Their Public Libraries by Wayne A. Wiegand, The Northwestern Media October 27, 2015.

Author: Staff Reporter

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