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LIU Post professor's anti-library Op-Ed stirs strong outcry

Canden Tanacan, 7, with mom Karyn Tanacan, both

Canden Tanacan, 7, with mom Karyn Tanacan, both of Farmingdale, enjoy spending time at Farmingdale Public Library on Monday. Credit: Howard Schnapp

A Long Island professor's opinion piece advocating that public libraries should be closed and replaced by Amazon bookstores has stirred strong emotions about the future of this American institution.

The verdict is in: Long Islanders love their local library, praising it as not only a place to get books but also as a hub for civic engagement and a clearinghouse for cultural offerings, entertainment and helpful services.

The Forbes piece by professor Panos Mourdoukoutas, economics chair at LIU Post, provoked an outcry from people who view libraries as a beloved community resource that serves everyone from children learning to read to seniors spending time together.

"Dumb idea," said Peter Barbato, 57, of Farmingdale, standing outside the Farmingdale Public Library on Monday. He returned two books and took out four. 

Mourdoukoutas' piece was published on the Forbes website Saturday morning; by Monday, following widespread criticism, the piece was removed. 

"Forbes advocates spirited dialogue on a range of topics, including those that often take a contrarian view," said a statement by the media company. "Libraries play an important role in our society. This article was outside of this contributor’s specific area of expertise, and has since been removed."

In the piece, Mourdoukoutas says that libraries have become outdated since people can sit and read in coffee shops, obtain books electronically, rent movies through video streaming and hold public meetings at schools. Moreover, the tax money that people would save by closing libraries could go toward using the Amazon bookstores, he said.

"Amazon should open their own bookstores in all local communities," wrote Mourdoukoutas, who contributes to Forbes"They can replace local libraries and save taxpayers lots of money, while enhancing the value of their stock."

As the backlash gained steam, Mourdoukoutas tweeted: “Let me clarify something. Local libraries aren’t free. Homeowners must pay a local library tax. My bill is $495/year.”

Mourdoukoutas did not respond to several emails and voice messages seeking comment.

The proposal created a spirited response at the Farmingdale library.

"No, no, no. That can't happen," said Christa Lucarelli, the library assistant director. "Not everybody wants to buy a book on Amazon."

Natalie Korsavidis, who works on the reference desk, sent five responses to Mourdoukoutas' posting of his piece on Twitter, listing the many services offered by the library: early literacy classes, career counseling, exercise classes, free audio and e-books, along with DVDs, CDs, video games and magazines.

Across the library, people browsed the tall rows of books. Teens sat at computers. An agency arrived with a group of people who have developmental disabilities.

Karyn Tanacan, 42, of Farmingdale, said she has brought her son to the library since he was 4 months old, and that together they read more than 1,000 books before he even started kindergarten.

Canden is 7 now and they still frequent the library, coming for the summer reading club, story time and shows.

"This was his first school," Tanacan said as she sat with her son at a table in the children's area. She added, "Amazon is taking over the world, but they shouldn't take over our libraries." 

But some people support closing public libraries as a way to save tax dollars.

Barbara Minerd, 68, of Huntington, said she believes libraries duplicate many services available in the community. People could use the money they save in taxes to join the YMCA, sign up for adult education and visit museums, she said.

Minerd added that she thought it was wrong for Forbes to delete the story, even if it was controversial.

"I wish it was on more websites, so people could think outside the box instead of going along with the same old thing," she said. 

Hempstead Town Receiver of Taxes Don Clavin will join library supporters Wednesday morning at the Oceanside Library to respond to the piece, which had the headline, “Amazon Should Replace Libraries to Save Taxpayers Money.”

Clavin says the piece is ill-informed and shows little to no understanding of the resources they provide to residents. 

Closing public libraries would hurt disadvantaged communities the most, said Paul Guequierre, spokesman for the Urban Libraries Council, a Washington-based organization of libraries in North America. 

"There's a lot of kids who don't have computers or internet access at home," Guequierre said. "This is what is helping them get through school and graduate."

Closing libraries would save little in the way of money, said Richard Auxier, a researcher with the Tax Policy Center, a Washington-based nonpartisan think tank. If funding were cut across the country and divided among the population, each person would receive $36, he said.

Sandra Gallo, 60, of Farmingdale, walked into the local library with her library card in hand. She likes to stop by to relax, pick up museum passes and read magazines. She also had a list of books to pick up for her grandkids. 

"I always do a lot more than reading here," Gallo said. 

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