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#LibrariesMatter // The Importance of Libraries Today: Two Librarians & A Microphone Podcast

Join us as we embark on Season 5 of Two Librarians And A Microphone! This season, inspired by the Urban Library Council's Annual Forum theme, Leading Forward, focuses on how libraries are positioning themselves as key influencers and essential partners in their communities and appointed leaders.

Tune in to hear firsthand how libraries are staying relevant, serving the underserved, and, generally, filling virtually every social services gap in their communities.

Episode 1 tackles the viral discussion of libraries vs amazon and why "leading forward" matters. Our hosts confront the elephant in the room and discuss the spirited debate sparked by the erroneous (briefly published, since removed) Forbes article, "Amazon Should Replace Local Libraries to Save Taxpayers Money." It turns out that not only are librarians masters of literature, but they also know how to find deleted articles on Google. From partnering with the local food bank to stepping up in times of crisis, libraries are so much more than a repository of books. Listen in and understand why.



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Jim Heuer [00:00:16] Hey everybody, it's Jim Heuer, the microphone that you've come to know in our podcast series Two Librarians and A Microphone. We're here for Season Five, and it wouldn't be our podcast if it was just me, so I'm here with my two librarian friends.

Tricia Bengel [00:00:31] I'm librarian one, Tricia.

Donna George [00:00:33] Hey, this is Donna.

Jim Heuer [00:00:35] All right. If you've listened to any of our podcasts before, we usually come up with a theme. We have theme for this season. A little bit later this fall, in September, The Urban Library Council is going to have their annual forum in Baltimore. The theme for their forum is Libraries Leading Forward, "leading forward". We thought that would be a pretty good theme for our next podcast series. We're going to kind of glom onto that. We'll have our standard four episodes and we'll touch on different aspects of that. We'll talk about some libraries who are doing unique things and libraries who have served as places of refuge in times of crisis. We have some pretty interesting episodes lined up for you. However, before we get into that, there's something of an elephant in the room in the library land, and many of you listening to this podcast might be familiar of an article that was published, a guest editorial, published in Forbes. If you're going to go Google, looking for that now, it's actually been taken down. But, and I'm sure I'm going to get this name wrong, but we're going to give it our best shot. A guest economist who is a professor at Long Island University…a fellow by the name of Panos Mourdoukoutas, or something like that, but I have a hard name to pronounce, so he probably couldn't get mine either. He wrote an op-ed and he suggested that the public good would be better served if Amazon took over the role of public libraries. Response was swift, and pointed, and Donna, why don't you tell us about some of the response

Jim Heuer [00:02:28] that the libraries…or talk…why don't you actually tell us about, a little about what he said, and then Tricia, you can talk about what some of the libraries who responded quickly...

Donna George [00:02:36] You're killing me Jim! Just like all the libraries, I'm sure that Tricia and I are both chomping at the bit to respond to this article. It was written in Forbes magazine on July the 21st. Thank you for going through the motions of pronouncing the name, but yes, in essence, the proposal was that small Amazon book shops could replace local, public libraries. In the article this guest editor mentioned several reasons for this thinking, and he compared it to Starbucks. He kind of delineated the role that he believes public libraries have played traditionally as a, kind of a museum holding books, a place where people can come to use WiFi, and then he kind of countered that with why those things are not really relevant anymore and why you can do those things in other places. One thing he said in particular was this is why some people have started using their loyalty card at Starbucks more than they use their library card. The supposition there is that people no longer need the library as a place to use the internet.

Donna George [00:03:41] They just go to Starbucks. We all know that the folks, a lot of the folks who use public libraries can't afford an $8 cup of coffee, so that's not really a feasible place for a lot of the library customers to go. He also argued that technology has turned physical books into collector's items. I can tell you from a vendor standpoint, we work with several libraries. That is simply not true. Print budgets are still strong. We have lots of libraries doing interesting things with lucky day collections. They're still buying multiple copies of best sellers. Patrons are still going to libraries to get those best sellers in print. Tricia, I know that you are probably dying to jump in now with some details about how librarians reacted to this article.

Tricia Bengel [00:04:29] Well, of course the Twitter-verse completely blew up, and there was lots and lots of vitriol spewing and lots of astute comments. One of the best responses to the article I read though was from Vox, and so if you're not familiar with Vox, it calls itself the home for compelling, provocative narrative essays, and it's a great website that I really enjoy. A librarian from Washington D.C., she's in one of the branches in one of the inner-city branches of Washington D.C., wrote a really interesting article response about it, and about just the amount of work that she does that an Amazon would never do. She talks about teaching people who have never used a computer how to open an internet browser, how to create a user name and password for an email account to apply for a job, how to apply for social security. Homeless people are welcome in her building, just like they are in libraries across the country, and that there is such a difference between an institution that expects you to pay for service and an institution that is a public good. If you've not read the article in Vox, it was by Amanda Oliver on July the 26th, and it's a really compelling rebuttal and she ends the article with saying, "Libraries are irreplaceable. Either discuss providing more funding for the invaluable work we do, or at least leave them alone." And I thought that that was very well said amongst all of the outcry. I do think it's funny that I checked on the guest editor yesterday. The article from Forbes is not there any longer,

Tricia Bengel [00:06:35] but if you just Google, "deleted Forbes article about libraries" you can find it in many, many locations, and he still has not responded on his personal Twitter account to any of the, the world's responses to him, and so I think Mr. Panos has maybe gone back to Greece.

Donna George [00:07:00] Please note there that in addition to all of those things that librarians do, they can also find deleted articles. Know that.

Jim Heuer [00:07:09] Yeah, I think if you're going to come for libraries or librarians on Twitter, you better be ready, because library Twitter reached out, and just slayed that guy, right?

Donna George [00:07:23] They really did. They really did.

Tricia Bengel [00:07:26] And did it in very smart, funny, compelling ways.

Jim Heuer [00:07:31] Right, yeah, like wow, that was really interesting the way they sliced and diced me, right, you know? You were talking about that Vox article, you know, I know I got a little case of the feels as I was reading that, and the librarian was talking about helping a homeless person spell to look up the word stomachache--

Donna George [00:07:51] Yes.

Jim Heuer [00:07:51] …in a Google search. You know that, right, I mean, who thinks of stuff like that, right? I mean, that just seems like it's an everyday--

Tricia Bengel [00:07:58] There's nothing more practical than that.

Donna George [00:08:00] That's right.

Jim Heuer [00:08:00] But, you know, her stomach hurt and she wanted to know what was going on, and she had one place in society that she could turn to.

Donna George [00:08:08] The other thing I thought was super compelling in that article was one of the things that the author of the Vox article noted too, is that they've packaged some information for homeless patrons to let them know what their, what the support structure is in their town. Phone numbers and addresses and highlights of the support structure and just to, to be that proactive, to be that dialed into your community, and the needs of your community and to just have that ready to go and to have put the effort into putting it together in the first place, I think speaks volumes about the work of librarians.

Tricia Bengel [00:08:42] When I worked with the State Library of Tennessee, there was a legislator who always said that libraries were what leveled the playing field, because they're accessible to all people and that always resonated with me. You can go into a library and you can be sitting at a table with an extremely wealthy person who could have bought all of the books that she or he wanted to read and a homeless person at the next table and they're using the same resources in the same way. That is not something that Amazon is really going to want to court.

Donna George [00:09:24] I found something on Facebook too that fits right in here and I printed it out. It speaks to what we're talking about today. It also kind of hearkens back to an earlier episode that we did, an earlier season about library neutrality. It says, "Government should never be run like a business because the business of business is to create profits for the few. The business of government is to create opportunity for the many." I think that's exactly what you just said, Tricia, is that it just really levels the playing field and that's what our work is all about.

Tricia Bengel [00:09:57] It was, it was Andrew Carnegie who said, "The libraries are the people's university." And I'm proud that still holds true today.

Jim Heuer [00:10:10] We talked about The Urban Libraries Council and I remember at one of the earlier forums, listening to a library director talk about how it, in the summer months they had taken on the role of providing hot lunches for students who were not in school, right? Now, that's obviously not something that you would think would be the role of the library, but when the libraries and the librarians look around their communities they're not looking for their role. They're looking to see what they can do to help, right? And if it's providing free lunch, then that's what it is, and I don't think that you're going to get a free lunch at Amazon.

Tricia Bengel [00:10:46] No, no, and one of the, my favorite things this year, talking about Urban Library Council and flipping through all the entries this year for the great initiatives. Fairfax County Public Library in Virginia, they support the local food bank who sends backpacks of food home with kids on the weekend, by also sending backpacks of books home for the summer, so that kids who use the food bank also have access to books over the summer, because they're concerned that they may not have books in their home, and may not have access to their school libraries over the summer, of course, and so that community sees books as important to the mind as food is to the belly. I thought that was just an amazingly good idea.

Donna George [00:11:40] It's fantastic.

Jim Heuer [00:11:41] Yeah, and if you're wondering what "leading forward" means, that's probably a pretty good example or a definition of "leading forward". All right, we're going to call this episode one of Season Five. We have a few other episodes in this season planned. The next episode we're going to talk about when libraries have to serve in crisis. We're going to talk about some of the experiences that happened in Baltimore and Ferguson, Missouri and New York City and out in Staten Island when they've had, either a terrorist attack or a natural disaster. But that's another way that libraries are "leading forward". Until next time, Donna, Tricia, you guys want to sign off, and we'll talk to everyone soon enough?

Tricia Bengel [00:12:31] Talk to you all soon.

Donna George [00:12:32] Yup, see you in a bit.

Jim Heuer [00:12:34] All righty, thanks everybody. We'll talk to you soon, bye bye. Two Librarians and A Microphone is brought to you by Ingram Library Services. It is a division of Ingram Content Group. Our producer and director is Rachel Cope. Sound engineering by Craig Simpson. Special assistance by Essence Brisco and Elizabeth Wilcox. The research done by our librarians, Tricia Bengel and Donna George. I'm Jim Heuer, thanks most of all to you for listening. Please follow us on Instagram, @thelibrarylife. Tag us in your #thelibrarylife moments, because we got some cool stuff going on, on that social media platform. We're going to be giving away some exclusive books, ARCs, and perhaps a signed copy. In order to make sure that you're staying tuned to this podcast, we'd love for you to go to our landing page But most importantly, the best way you can show your support for us, we'd love some reviews on Apple iTunes. If you could go in there, leave us a positive review, that would really help. Tell us what you'd like to hear. That might help us as we're thinking about some of the content we're trying to bring you. It's the best way you can support what we're doing. We're trying to bring you interesting, fun, compelling, thought-provoking content. If we'll see, we might see some of you at ULC in Baltimore, and if so, we look forward to that, and if not, we will see you in your libraries. Thanks everybody.