Librarians are still buzzing with reaction to last Saturday’s opinion piece by LIU Post economist Panos Mourdoukoutas titled “Amazon Should Replace Local Libraries to Save Taxpayers Money.”
In PW, ALA president Loida Garcia-Febo penned an editorial in response. “Clearly, professor Mourdoukoutas would have benefited from the assistance of a librarian,” she wrote. “The evidence is clear: our nation’s libraries are a sound public investment.”
Over at Vox, Washington D.C. librarian Amanda Oliver penned one of the more powerful, firsthand responses I’ve seen. “For anyone who believes in the power of art to change and enhance our lives, the idea that it should only be available to people who can pay for it is horrifying,” she writes. “Libraries and librarians fill in the significant gaps created by what I would argue is our society’s pandemic of ignoring our impoverished, underserved, and most vulnerable populations.”
And via Medium library lobbyist group EveryLibrary points out that Mourdoukoutas’s views are unfortunately not uncommon. “The only way to fight against these sentiments is to educate Americans about how valuable and efficient our nation’s libraries really are.”
But after generating more than 200,000 views in a matter of hours, and a flurry of responses from library supporters, Forbes retracted the piece. “This article was outside of this contributor’s specific area of expertise,” a Forbes spokesperson explained, in a statement.
For me, however, the decision to retract the piece isn't sitting right. I suppose there is a case to be made that it caused a bit of a PR mess for Forbes. But any good librarian will be the first to tell you that’s not a reason to pull it—the internet is still blazing with responses to the piece, yet the original piece is gone.
Further, this isn't the first time a Forbes contributor has made this very argument. In 2014, on the Forbes U.K. site, contributor Tim Worstall suggested libraries be replaced with Amazon Kindle Unlimited subscriptions. Worstall's bio identifies him as "a writer here and there on this and that" and as "one of the global experts on the metal scandium, one of the rare earths." That piece too was blasted. It’s still up. No problem.
A Forbes spokesperson reiterated to PW that, no, Mourdoukoutas was not shilling for Amazon, and explained that all Forbes editorial contributors, including Mourdoukoutas, “are on paid contracts.” But the same spokesperson declined to comment on whether Mourdoukoutas was edited or reviewed prior to publication. If the problem with the piece really was that it was outside the author's area of expertise, that doesn't seem to have been a problem before. And, isn't that something that should have been caught before publication?
And, was Mourdoukoutas really that far out of his lane, as Forbes claims? He’s an economics professor, and this piece, whether you think it's half-baked or not, is arguably rooted in economics, and tax policy. He is also a taxpayer, and his taxes support his local library. The piece is clearly an editorial. And, if you click next to Mourdoukoutas’s byline, a disclaimer pops up that says “opinions expressed by Forbes Contributors are their own.” And he seems to have a wide array of opinions: Bitcoin, the Philippines, how to win the lottery, how Starbucks pays its baristas.
It's possible that Mourdoukoutas wanted the piece taken down (his previous pieces garnered few comments on Twitter, but two of his tweets involving this piece have garnered nearly 16,000 comments). But if that's the case, he should say so.
To be clear, I think Mourdoukoutas’s premise is absurd. But as EveryLibrary’s John Chrastka points out, Mourdoukoutas is not alone in his thinking. "Not enough civic and business leaders understand yet that libraries are economic engines, retail anchors, and small business accelerators," Chrastka told me. "A small amount of smart taxes for libraries does a tremendous amount to advance the common good, including economic outcomes."
Indeed, a recent report from OCLC on voters' "perceptions and support of public libraries" also delivered a wake up call to library supporters, reporting that the percentage of voters who say they would "probably or definitely vote favorably for a library funding ballot initiative, referendum, or bond measure" has declined from 73% in 2008 to 58% today.
Personally, I think librarians should be thanking Mourdoukoutas, and Forbes for publishing the piece. It is a reminder of the advocacy work libraries must continue to do. And the support they enjoy. The internet this week is buzzing about the importance of libraries—and it’s beautiful.
I hope, too, that librarians will reach out to professor Mourdoukoutas, help to change his mind about public libraries, and that he one day soon writes a follow-up piece in defense of public libraries. And that Forbes allows him to publish it.
Cengage this week announced the completion of a survey showing that college students consider buying course materials to be their top source of financial stress, after tuition. The survey, Today’s Learner: Student Views, 2018, was conducted by Morning Consult on behalf of Cengage, and suggests among other things, that students routinely sacrifice basic needs, such as food, to afford their course materials.
In an interesting twist of timing Bustle this week published a list of 7 Surprising Things Librarians Do Other Than Check Out Books.
From the University of California, Berkeley, comes this look at some of their librarians' favorite items from the library collection (which includes some early writing by Mark Twain, and an original musical sketch by Beethoven).
After months of security concerns, Facebook this week took a beating in the market. MarketWatch reports that the social media giant lost about $120 billion in market capitalization, after missing quarterly expectations on revenue and user growth. CEO Mark Zuckerberg said the company's security efforts are beginning to impact the bottom line. "The company planned to hire 20,000 people to handle safety and security on its platforms in response to controversies such as use of Facebook to push fake news ahead of the 2016 U.S. election," MarketWatch explains.
In The Atlantic, a good interview with University of Virginia media scholar Siva Vaidhyanathan, author of Antisocial Media: How Facebook Disconnects Us and Undermines Democracy on how Facebook wound up in its current position. "In spring of 2011, there’s this instant myth out there that Twitter and Facebook were instrumental in the overthrow of dictatorships and the establishment of democracies," Vaidhyanathan says. "That insulated Facebook from self-criticism. It was easy to go to work at Facebook—whether you were Mark Zuckerberg or Sheryl Sandberg or someone working at the lower level of the Facebook Messenger project—and convince yourself you were improving the world."
Also from Canada, the Association of Canadian Publishers (ACP) this week filed its defense in a contentious legal battle over past payments for the use of educational materials in Canada, part of a larger, ongoing dispute over changes to Canada's copyright legislation. In this suit, the Ministries of Education for a number of provinces are seeking to claw back more than $25 million in fees collected by Access Copyright for the period of 2010-2012. Despite the litigation, the release says Canadian publishers "remain committed to working towards constructive solutions that benefit both students and Canada’s creative sector," and "support a return to negotiations at the earliest possible opportunity."
The Library Publishing Coalition this week announced the release of a new resource: An Ethical Framework for Library Publishing, Version 1.0. Inspired by discussions at the 2017 Library Publishing Forum, the Framework introduces library publishers to important ethical considerations in a variety of areas and provides concrete recommendations for ethical scholarly publishing.