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Should Amazon stores replace libraries to save taxpayers money?

Posted at 8:31 PM, Dec 17, 2018
and last updated 2018-12-18 12:58:05-05

DENVER — In the age of Amazon, we’ve become used to the convenience of two-day deliveries to our front doors. The e-commerce giant seems to be everywhere, including two stores right here in Colorado.

A Forbes contributor in a now-deleted article argued Amazon stores should replace libraries, saving tax dollars.

He’s not the only one that doesn't find libraries important or impactful in this day in age. President Trump has proposed defunding libraries in his past two budgets.

Part of Panos Mourdoukoutas’a article also made the claim that people use their Starbucks loyalty cards more than their library cards because Starbucks provides the Wifi needed to download movies on Netflix, books from Amazon online, etc.

Denver7 took a 360 look to present multiple sides to the argument that libraries could be or should be replaced by Amazon stores.

The first perspective comes from a librarian at the downtown branch, Annie Kemmerling. She said libraries are vital because they give everyone in the community access, not just those that can afford it.

"Have you been in a public library lately? Because it’s so busy here and we are such a hub for the community," said Kemmerling.

She added that public libraries serve as trustworthy resources where people can get help, find entertainment or learn something new. That’s especially important for low income and immigrant populations that don’t necessarily have access to computers or wifi.

There are also free ESL and reading classes, services for the elderly, college hopefuls and entrepreneurs, to name a few examples.

"We are the second most visited cultural organization in this city, right behind the zoo," said Kemmerling.

Turning the page to our next perspective: affordability.

Mourdoukoutas claimed cutting public libraries would save taxpayers money. But library supporters say there is no comparison as it’s likely the average cost per American taxpayer for libraries is less than half the amazon prime subscription. The payoff is priceless.

"Being an open space there’s kind of that invaluable component to a library, that I’m not sure you could say $5 a day," said Kemmerling.

Another valuable component, some might argue, is the library’s transition to hiring social workers to staff locations.

Elissa hardy, a social worker at the downtown Denver central branch, helps those in hard times every day.

"They experience homelessness to mental health issues, to losing housing, to domestic violence issues," said Hardy. "Libraries are really community spaces for people especially when they don’t have a lot of other resources in their life."

But as a result, not everyone feels safe at the library or the area around it, like Willie Hayes' girlfriend.

"She doesn’t like the drug element. She doesn't like the criminal element. We've seen people getting robbed on the bus stop," said Hayes.

Some argue the main library can feel like a haven for the homeless community.

Also, families often feel unsafe after increased reports of drug overdoses and crime in the last few years. Denver Public library increased its security and now carries Narcan or naloxone to treat those who have overdosed on drugs.

"If you're not used to the screaming, or if you’re not used to, if you're trying to get something done studying, then yea I’d imagine you would feel unsafe," said another library patron.

Another perspective, important to many mothers and their children, is the ability to learn to read while making friends.

"I do think you need a library to go to because it's a good place to meet people," said a mother and library patron.

And it’s safe to say that love for books starts for kids at the local library, just asked the mothers young daughter.

"You can read them for free and I just like them," said the little girl.

You probably have memories of your library visits, the nostalgia.

"I actually really like books and I like the feel of paper and the smell of the books too," said one woman.

If you embrace technology, the smell of ink and paper isn't important to you as much as the convenience of a tablet, perhaps.

Mourdoukoutas supported his argument for dropping libraries and picking up e-readers by claiming that books have become collector's items because one can just download a book with a simple click.

It's a different story for graduate student Morgan Rains. As a millennial, she is savvy in both technology and the library. She brings all of her techy tools to the library with her to get research help from the staff.

"In my degree field, physical documents are really important and there aren't that many digital documents. Physically going to the library and begging them for help is really important for me," said Rains.

But if you ask another millennial, he hasn't seen a library in years. Even though he might not need one, he still understands the importance to the community it holds.

"So basically my entire life is around tech at this point from my personal life to my work life. So the library isn't for me personally but I definitely understand the merit of it," he said.

Book lovers in our next perspective, feel as though there's nothing like turning the pages of a good book.

At Tattered Cover bookstore, co-owner and CEO Len Vlahos told Denver7 that print book sales are up.

"Reading a printed book and reading an e-book experientially, it’s not just the same," said Vlahos.

What's next for Colorado libraries? Data from our partners at the Denver Post shows more than 31 million visits to Colorado libraries in 2017. In Denver, on average 2,800 people visit one of the Denver public libraries every day and that number is expected to keeps growing.