Amazon’s benefited from thinkpieces calling for library privatization. The backlash was swift. However, even without abolishing the library, Amazon has tremendous weight as the largest seller of books, audiobooks, and almost everything else. They can carve away at libraries like a holiday roast. The American Library Association recently filed their criticism, citing “abusive pricing, denial and delay of sales to libraries by major publishers.”
Public libraries are a public good! King County Library System, which shares its collection with Seattle’s own library system, grants access to 4.1 million items at 50 physical locations. Which is a bargain because…
Libraries endure despite being painted as mere houses for books. They’re so much more. Computer access for low-income families and job-seekers, academic journal access for researchers and scientists, safe communal spaces for young students and the unhoused. For many seniors, libraries are a social outlet too. Libraries serve as safe harbors for the dispossessed and help people get to their next destination (literatal, figural), no questions asked.
It’s true that Libby, which replaced Overdrive, one of the largest library apps for phones, browsers, and tablets grants access to library systems that may be inaccessible. That’s a tremendous benefit. However, there are a number of fronts libraries fight in these apps, despite being free at the point of use. The default selection is not to open a book within the app but to open Kindle Reader, where books will be suggested for purchase, not loan. It’s done under the guise of reader preference and choice but surely benefits Amazon as advertising of their storefront.
Audio recordings provide accessibility to text for those with visual disabilities. The public library should be open to everyone: sight-abled or not. However, Amazon’s outsized position in both printed books and audiobooks means that their licensing can be hard to escape. Here’s in-depth knowledge of those restrictions from Seattle author Ijeoma Oluo:
It’s not just libraries at stake. Capitalists want to carve the entire commons, corrupting public goods into private profits.