US news media company Forbes has removed a controversial article suggesting that Amazon bookshops should replace local libraries.
The piece was written by Forbes contributor Professor Panos Mourdoukoutas, who said: “At the core, Amazon has provided something better than a local library without the tax fees. This is why Amazon should replace local libraries. The move would save taxpayers money and enhance the stockholder value of Amazon all in one fell swoop.”
He said the e-commerce giant had created its own online library "that has made it easy for the masses to access both physical and digital copies of books".
"Amazon Books is a chain of bookstores that does what Amazon originally intended to do; replace the local bookstore. It improves on the bookstore model by adding online searches and coffee shops.”
Library professionals and campaigners reacted angrily to the piece, which is “dripping with privilege”, according to UK-based CILIP trustee and librarian Dawn Finch. “I really don't give it any more credence than I would any ill informed person spouting the "it's all on the internet" garbage,” she added, pointing to a blog that said the UK had only 282 million library visits in 2016.
Nick Poole, chief executive of libraries membership group CILIP, said Mourdoukoutas did not understand the point of libraries on a “basic and fundamental” level.
“The role of libraries is not, and never has been, to solely provide access to books. The role of libraries is to equip the whole of society with the skills, information, connections and services they need to flourish. It is unfortunate to see an economist misrepresent our sector and fail to understand the value of investing in literature, learning and opportunities for all. The outpouring of support from people that love their libraries is a welcome antidote to Prof Mourdoukoutas’ assertions.”
Ian Anstice of Public Libraries News added: “The author fundamentally misunderstands, possibly wilfully, the role of public libraries and appears to think that everyone is like him, with money to spare. That he also thinks that tax-avoiding Amazon is a suitable replacement for the library sector is almost beyond parody and he deserved the online reaction he got.
“People care about libraries, understand them and see the inestimable value they give to communities. This is apparently a mystery to Panos, who does not understand some things are for paid for by all for the good of all, like education, hospitals, roads and libraries. Perhaps he missed having a helpful librarian in his life at an early age that could have recommended the books to read to have helped him get this."
However, library campaigner Tim Coates said people should not be scornful of the article because the public library service in England was in very poor shape.
He said loans are falling and in Manchester, Newcastle, Sheffield, Birmingham and Liverpool “the figures show truly dramatic collapse”.
"What the public library service needs is high quality management of a kind it does not have," he said. "That does not mean it has to be management for profit, it can be for leadership for the improvement of service. Amazon may not be the most appropriate suggestion - but it's hard to argue that Amazon doesn't understand good service; they do. So do many other organisations. The public library service could learn from several."