The headline I’ve quoted reflects the precise sentiments of the article: “Let’s just close down the lending libraries and buy every citizen an Amazon Kindle Unlimited subscription.”
Granted, writer Tim Worstall is a British loony despite his appearances in mainstream publications (in both the the U.K. and the States). But you can bet that the anti-library faction in America is alive and well even if it normally isn’t as direct as Worstall.
Consider the travails of the local system in Troy, Michigan. Alas, books have suffered especially in many places. In my hometown of Alexandria, Virginia, Amazon’s number one reading city, the budget for books and other collection items is around $2.60 per capita. National spending on public library content is a mere $1.2 billion or so a year, or less than the worth of the “poorest” billionaire on the Forbes 400 list.
While most Americans like the idea of public libraries, this does not necessarily mean their politicians do, as shown by House Budget Chair Paul Ryan’s dream of killing off the Institute of Museum and Library Services. I wouldn’t be surprised if Ryan was thinking along the same lines as Worstall.
More lessons here for the Digital Public Library of America? Please, DPLA; listen to the Chief Officers of State Library Agencies. If you love public libraries, you’ll immediately drop the P word from your name—lest our own Worstalls eventually use it to say local libraries are redundant. Call yourself what you actually are, the Digital Academic Library of America. Don’t preempt the creation of a real “public” system.
Even a genuine national public digital library system should not include “public” in its name. Let “public library” remain what it is in effect—a brand name for local systems.
Needless to say, genuine public libraries of any kind are Amazon not; and they are not mere Netflix equivalents, either. Their services are far more extensive.
Instead of closing public libraries, both Americans and people elsewhere should be moving in the opposite direction and use them to address the literacy issue and others. See LibraryCity’s proposal for a national digital library endowment that could help pay for such activities as cell phone book clubs (the offering would be far more varied and substantive than the name would suggest).
Especially in the wake of the new Amazon service and the Worstall commmentary, an ALA resolution in favor of the endowment is long overdue. I don’t see the “Unlimited” service as an immediate threat; the collection is too limited. But why wait, given all the other reasons, including the ongoing phase-out of the Gates global libraries initiative? The ALA should act ASAP.
Update, 5 p.m.: Contrary to the thinking of some, Tim Worstall really, really means it. Just look at his dead-serious replies to Forbes readers. We aren’t seeing satire, just plain ignorance of libraries’ true functions.
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- For ALL—rural and urban, rich and poor