An opinion piece published on the Forbes website on July 18 has some interesting ideas about what the new Kindle Unlimited means for libraries. In Close the Libraries and Buy Everyone a Kindle Unlimited, Tim Worstall, presents a financial argument for closing all the libraries and replacing them with the new feature from Amazon. According to this article the United Kingdom spends 1.7 billion pounds (almost 2.9 billion dollars) but could purchase a Kindle Unlimited account for every single citizen for the low price of…just a bit more than 1.7 billion pounds (hmmm…that doesn’t sound like it would save much money – maybe Tim Worstall works for Amazon?).
Even for someone (like Tim Worstall who is fortunate enough to purchase any information resource he desires) who doesn’t rely on libraries to meet their basic information needs – access to internet, assistance with resumes, books to read for those (60% of the US) who can’t afford internet at home – nobody really thinks this is a good idea, right? My first thought was – this guy is just trolling us.
Until I read the comments under his article and there he was, arguing in favor of his brilliant plan to shut down libraries! Still trolling? I am not sure. What I DO know is that libraries are so much more than just books. I know that the 600,000 books available in Kindle Unlimited do not include many popular titles or even publishers of popular titles (HarperCollins, for example). I am an academic librarian and know from experience that there is absolutely no way that academic publishers are going to make their content available through an unlimited service like this one so all the research materials available through the public library will no longer be available. Online databases, also used for research by students as well as adults seeking information, would not be available through the Kindle (or through anywhere else if you take away public libraries). The list of information resources provided by our public libraries that could not be provided through Kindle Unlimited goes on. I will just summarize: libraries are certainly about books and reading but they are also about more than that – they are about information literacy, education, employability.
Finally, one major flaw in Tim Worstall’s argument is that his cost analysis does not include the cost of providing wireless internet availability to every single citizen so that the Kindles can be used in the first place. Twenty percent (that is 1 in 5) of the households in the United States do not have internet access at all and more than a quarter do not have wifi. Obviously the population lacking Internet access is heavily skewed toward those with limited financial means. People choosing between food and the Internet will choose food. So if we give these folks Kindles but no wifi we have basically given them…doorstops? paperweights? What would you use a wifi-less Kindle for? Perhaps you could use it as a bookend for your library books…oh, but you don’t have any of those anymore because your library is closed.