Libraries offer so much more than books

If I’d lived in the world according to Panos Mourdoukoutas growing up, I would have either bankrupted my family or read a whole lot less.

As a kid, most every trip to the Parksburg & Wood County Public Library ended with me checking out as many books as I was allowed — usually more than my scrawny arms could safely carry. Luckily, my parents were always happy to give me a hand, and a ride to and from my favorite place.

Those bi-weekly visits remain some of my happiest memories. Even now, while the trips are much fewer and further between, going to the library is still a pleasure I enjoy.

So, when I caught wind of Mourdoukoutas’ controversial Forbes article a few days ago, I was mad. His argument that libraries aren’t worth taxpayers’ money and should be replaced with Amazon bookstores is preposterous.

And I’m far from the only one who thinks so. Public outcry caused Forbes to take down the op-ed from its website and issue the statement: “This article was outside of this contributor’s specific area of expertise, and has since been removed.”

As a professor though, you would think that Mourdoukoutas would be inclined to champion the educational services that libraries provide to communities across the county — which stretch well beyond the books on their shelves.

Our own library system offers story times, coupon swaps, access to the Internet and a host of databases, help with finding jobs and career training, after-school and educational programs, DVDs, downloadable audio books, ebooks and music, and movie nights. And that’s just what I know from memory and a quick search on the Morgantown Public Library System website. (If you do want to keep up with all of our libraries’ activities and offerings, check out the library column which runs most Wednesdays in our paper’s Food & Fodder section.)

Interestingly, Forbes published an article in 2013 titled “Why Public Libraries Matter: And How They Can Do More.” In it, contributor David Vinjamuri writes that libraries “welcomed more than 1.59 billion visitors in 2009 and lent books 2.4 billion times — more than 8 times for each citizen.

“More than half of young adults and seniors living in poverty in the United States used public libraries to access the Internet. They used this access, among other purposes to ‘find work, apply to college, secure government benefits, and learn about critical medical treatments’ For all this, public libraries cost just $42 per citizen each year to maintain.”

Given that 2009 was a almost a decade ago, I’m sure that those statistics are a little different today. (Although, as of 2016, the Pew Research Center said trends in visiting public libraries have steadied.) And I’m not sure exactly what percentage of my tax dollars help facilitate the services area libraries provide, but I don’t care. Unlike Mourdoukoutas, I’m more than happy to pay it.

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