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Editorial: Storm proves the role of library in Hopkinton, all towns


Sunday, August 12, 2018

Last month, an economics professor named Panos Mourdoukoutas wrote a column for Forbes in which he argued that Amazon bookstores should replace local libraries. It didn’t take long for Mourdoukoutas to learn that people really, really love their libraries – and for practical rather than sentimental reasons.

Forbes has since sheepishly removed the article, and Mourdoukoutas has become something of a Twitter punching bag for his lame suggestion. And yet he still hasn’t changed his tune. You see, Mourdoukoutas doesn’t like contributing his tax dollars to something he doesn’t use, something he believes has been rendered obsolete by Jeff Bezos’s behemoth. He would rather people hand over their money to Amazon shareholders than subsidize a public library. Some people just don’t get it.

But a lot of people do.

Earlier this month in Hopkinton, a storm blew into town and a bolt of lightning hit the library’s cupola. The ensuing fire caused extensive damage, and it will be months before residents have full use of their beloved building and its contents. In the meantime, the support the library has received from patrons and surrounding communities has been heartwarming – but not surprising.

Jim O’Brien, chairman of the Hopkinton select board, told the Monitor that “the library is definitely the center of the community.” He’s right, of course, but not just about Hopkinton. Whenever we have moved to a new town, the library is one of the first places we go. Not just because we want to check out the selection of new fiction, which we do, but because the better acquainted we become with the library and the people who work and gather there, the more our new town feels like home. A library is a place where young and old congregate and interact, where lifelong friendships are discovered and nurtured, where knowledge is gained and passed on. Best of all, a public library is one of the few truly equitable places in a society of haves and have nots. No one cardholder is above another; the library exists for all equally, regardless of sex or economic status, age or race, political affiliation or level of education.

If there was any doubt how the people of Hopkinton feel about their library, the lightning strike on Aug. 3 set the record straight. Even before the flames were fully extinguished, townspeople wanted to know how they could help – and then they started helping.

Town and library officials should be lauded, too, for how well they have kept people in the loop through a news blog and Facebook page, with links for each on the library website at hokintontownlibrary.org. We also applaud all of the area libraries that have opened their doors to Hopkinton cardholders, including Concord, Dunbarton, Henniker, New England College in Henniker, Hillsborough, Warner, Weare and Webster. As we said, it’s heartwarming but not surprising. That’s the way libraries, and librarians, roll.

But if some of you remain sympathetic to Mourdoukoutas’s argument – that there’s no place for publicly funded libraries in the age of Amazon – we suggest that you ask a few young people how they feel. You might be surprised by their answers. A Pew Research Center study from 2016 found that 53 percent of millennials had used a public library or bookmobile in the previous year, which is more than generation X (45 percent), baby boomers (43 percent) or the silent generation (36 percent).

Times change and society progresses, but libraries are just as important now as they have ever been. But most of you already knew that.