Nation & World

‘Libraries play an important role in our society.’ Forbes deletes controversial column

Forbes has removed an opinion column about public libraries it published online over the weekend that created an uproar among people who use libraries, work in libraries and generally support libraries — and there are a lot of them, the business magazine now knows.

Forbes contributor Panos Mourdoukoutas wrote that Amazon bookstores should replace local public libraries to save taxpayers money. The piece, taken as “anti-library,” incited a flood of tweets from around the world praising libraries.

The magazine now says, basically, that Mourdoukoutas didn’t know what he was talking about.

“Forbes advocates spirited dialogue on a range of topics, including those that often take a contrarian view,” a Forbes spokesperson says in a statement published by Quartz.

“Libraries play an important role in our society. This article was outside of this contributor’s specific area of expertise, and has since been removed.”

Mourdoukoutas is chairman of the economics department at LIU Post in New York who also teaches at Columbia University, according to his bio.

“Amazon should open their own bookstores in all local communities. They can replace local libraries and save taxpayers lots of money, while enhancing the value of their stock,” he wrote.

As the backlash began, he tweeted: “Let me clarify something. Local libraries aren’t free. Home owners must pay a local library tax. My bill is $495/year.”

Let me clarify something,” Twitter user Kashana Cauley shot back. “I don’t want poor and working class people to read books.”

And on and on it went for two days.

“My mother was a librarian, and you are a simpleton,” a Twitter user named Anne the Writer tweeted at him.

“Do you know how much you are disappointing Mr. Rogers right now?” tweeted another Twitter user.

“#LibrariesMatter,” tweeted the Scottish library.

“Maybe Forbes doesn’t like that you can download their magazine free with your #SF library card,” tweet-snarked the San Francisco Public Library.

Mourdoukoutas argued that the services libraries provide today “don’t have the same value they used to.” For one thing, he wrote, people can just as easily get WiFi at their local Starbucks. “This is why some people have started using their loyalty card at Starbucks more than they use their library card,” he wrote.

“On top of this, streaming services such as Netflix and Amazon Prime have replaced video rentals. They provide TV and movie content to the masses at an affordable rate. Actual video rental services like Blockbuster have gone completely out of business.

“Then there’s the rise of digital technology. Technology has turned physical books into collectors’ items, effectively eliminating the need for library borrowing services.”

To be fair, he wrote, surveys reveal that people still want the services provided by public libraries. He cited a Pew Research Center survey that found millennials are the most likely generations to use them, “though it isn’t clear whether ‘public libraries’ are community libraries or school libraries. And what the trend is among this group.”

The response to the article reveals a love of libraries that runs deep. The Guardian took note of one Twitter user’s awe-struck observation: “Damn library twitter rolls hard.”

“It’s obvious Mr. Mourdoukoutas hasn’t been to a public library in a very long time (if ever), nor does he seem to have an understanding of how they actually serve a community,” Courtney Lewis, spokesperson for the Kansas City Public Library, told the Kansas City Star.

“We respect his right to have his opinion because quite frankly libraries have always respected differences of opinions. But we also encourage knowledge through research.

“We encourage Mr. Mourdoukoutas to get his own library card and do a little research at his nearby branch. We’re pretty sure he’ll see firsthand all of the services libraries offer and happily realize how wrong he was.

“Oh, and we also have a café here to serve as an “in-house third space.” chimed in by offering the definition of “library.”

One person showed off their library tattoo.

One Twitter user pointed out one famous fan of libraries: Prince. She tweeted a photo of the $12,000 check the superstar donated to a Louisvile, Kentucky library that was the first in the nation run by and that served African-Americans.

“#LibrariesMatter,” tweeted the Scottish library, and the list of tweets using that hashtag grew long.