By Adrianne Schinkai,
Head of Circulation and Reference Services, Vicksburg District Library
A Forbes magazine contributor doesn’t see much value in public libraries. The employees of Vicksburg’s Library disagree. On July 21, the financial magazine published an op-ed piece by contributor Panos Mourdoukoutas: “Amazon Should Replace Local Libraries to Save Taxpayers Money.”
The piece proved unpopular and received so much backlash it has been removed from the website. This hasn’t stopped public libraries from voicing their own opinions and tooting their own horns.
The Vicksburg District Library is no different. Vexed by Mourdoukoutas’ statements, employees of the library are working to make sure the community knows what they have to offer.
Mourdoukoutas fails to realize that libraries are not like traditional businesses. Libraries are community services. The Vicksburg District Library has no sales goals. Instead, goals revolve around customer services and connecting all patrons with the resources they seek. “Libraries provide people with lower to no incomes access to entertainment and educational resources they may otherwise have no access to,” says Elain ap’Morrygan, one of Vicksburg’s circulation clerks.
It’s a point Mourdoukoutas misses as he repeatedly points out how businesses such as Starbucks and Netflix have “affordable rates.” The free services in the library are a benefit to all, regardless of income.
In his piece, Mourdoukoutas stated, “There was a time when local libraries offered the local community lots of services in exchange for their tax money. They would bring books, magazines, and journals to the masses through a borrowing system. Residents could borrow any book they wanted, read it, and return it for someone else to read.”
Director of the Vicksburg District Library, Eric Hansen, finds those thoughts perplexing. “It’s interesting that Mourdoukoutas keeps mentioning that libraries provided all these services, but he is not effectively arguing that we no longer provide these services. A lot of the services he mentions are things we still do on a constant basis.”
Vicksburg provides services beyond the traditional as well. These include story time and developmental workshops for children, use of computers and internet, and community craft events. All of these services are free to patrons. Adds ap’Morrygan, “The list of services our library offers is longer than I can easily name. In addition, this library is part of the community. It provides spaces for classes, parties, clubs, games, memorials, and so much more.”
Mourdoukoutas again: “Technology has turned physical books into collector’s items, effectively eliminating the need for library borrowing services.”
However, earlier this year Forbes published Ellen Duffer’s article, “Owning Print Books Feels Different from Owning E-Books.” Duffer reported people were becoming frustrated with owning e-books as they did not provide the options of physical books. Hansen shares his amusement. “I think that Mourdoukoutas’ assertion about books being a collector’s item is a matter of opinion that he expends no effort to substantiate with statistics.”
His colleague, ap’Morrygan, seems to agree. “I find it interesting that Mourdoukoutas opens his article saying that Amazon should open bookstores, then turns around and says paper books are obsolete. I question whether or not he actually has any idea what he’s proposing Amazon do.”
Amusement aside, one of ap’Morrygan’s duties as a circulation clerk is assisting with material suggestions to buy for the Vicksburg District Library, both in print and electronic format. One of Hansen’s duties as director is to authorize the purchasing of all media. Vicksburg is not loyal to one type of format.
Mourdoukoutas’ ideas of what a library once offered are small in comparison to what the Vicksburg District Library continues to provide for its citizens.