Give Your Money to Libraries, Jeff Bezos
The Amazon founder says he doesn’t know what to do with his billions. I have an idea.
I n an interview published in Business Insider on April 28, 2018, Amazon founder and world’s richest man Jeff Bezos revealed a relatable problem: He has so much money he can’t think of what to do with it. “The only way that I can see to deploy this much financial resource is by converting my Amazon winnings into space travel,” he told fellow CEO Mathias Döpfner. “Because you’re right, you’re not going to spend it on a second dinner out.”
I am not standing on top of Money Mountain, I am not even really in what you would call the Financially Stable Foothills, but I can see and list many more ways Jeff Bezos could deploy said financial resource.
Jeff Bezos could house the homeless of more than one city.
Jeff Bezos could buy out and forgive student debt, and/or medical debt.
Jeff Bezos could pay his own workers a livable wage that accounts for inflation, and make their working conditions not only fair but comfortable.
Jeff Bezos could do something about the homes and businesses in Puerto Rico that are still without power after six months.
Jeff Bezos could pay to get clean water into Flint, Michigan.
Jeff Bezos could wipe out the bond fees of people all across America and send them home to their families.
Jeff Bezos could drop a seriously weighty feather on the scale of Anubis, one that would make any heart seem light.
I think Jeff Bezos should do every one of these things but also I think Jeff Bezos should fund the hell out of libraries, in perpetuity. What libraries? All libraries. Public libraries. School libraries. Any library that’s ever had to wonder if it will still be there tomorrow if the funding isn’t renewed.
I think Jeff Bezos should do every one of these things but also I think Jeff Bezos should fund the hell out of libraries, in perpetuity. What libraries? All libraries.
Every so often, when working the reference desk or the circulation desk, I find myself confronted by a very specific sort of person. I’m gonna call him an Obviously Well-Off White Guy. Obviously Well-Off White Guy will take a sweeping look around the children’s stacks, the public internet terminals (always in use), the New Books!, the DVDs, and say something like, “I don’t know, do people even use libraries anymore? I mean, we have the internet now.” This person turns up in every library I’ve ever been in, even though they think people don’t use libraries anymore. Public libraries are especially under threat, but this guy shows up in university libraries as well. Probably this guy turned up in enough school board meetings and that’s why there are hardly any school libraries anymore, or why the ones that do exist are often unstaffed. This guy can buy all the books and movies and video games he wants. This guy has no idea what it’s like to not have the internet at his fingertips at all times. He doesn’t know what it is to need a public computer at the library in order to fill out an eligibility form for public housing or apply for a job or to get his kids into a high school that he desperately hopes will give them a chance at a good college.
That’s some bare bones shit as to why we should have libraries, but libraries are also non-commercial nodes of human connection. Libraries are full of writing groups and anime clubs and knitting circles. Libraries have comic books and video games and poetry for everyone. Libraries are for young parents and kids and teenagers and old people. You can walk into a public library and get things you need, and things you want, and you can matter to other people. The simple truth is we don’t have enough places like that, and we should protect the ones we have. We should ensure their future. We should build more of them.
(Especially, Jeff Bezos, if we happen to have achieved our fantastic wealth specifically by selling books to those who can afford them.)
To the Obviously Well-Off White Guys of the world, to the billionaires having trouble spending their money, I’ll just say, give it to libraries. Give it to the arts. Give it to the schools. Give it to make sure people have roofs over their heads, and that they know those roofs are secure. Come talk to me, or honestly, any librarian. We’ll form a committee to help you see more than one way to do this. Give more than you do. Give on a stupendous scale. Give shockingly. Endow the hell out of some shit. Fund some things into a future so distant we might all be digitally conscious by then. Do a pilot program to save the universe and then save the universe.
Endow the hell out of some shit. Do a pilot program to save the universe and then save the universe.
This part is just for you, Jeff Bezos.
I understand, Jeff Bezos, that you are always thinking about the future. I am always thinking about the future myself. When I am not working at one or more libraries, I write stories about the future. In my stories about the future, we all get there together. I think it’s great, honestly, that you are thinking so much about how humanity will survive into the distant future. (Have you read Seveneves, by Neal Stephenson? That is a bang-up book about civilization surviving in space.) I just wish you would also think about the very immediate future, and the very immediate survival of the humans who are here, hoping to see tomorrow.
In the interview with Business Insider, you said, “You can explain things to someone, but you can’t understand things to them.” I wish I could understand to you the things I see every day in a public library that could absolutely, easily, be made better with not even a lot of your space money. And I also wish I could understand to you that while you deliberate and ask yourself what the very best way is to spend your massive wealth, the lives of ordinary people are passing, crushed under worry and scarcity, and you could make their lives infinitely better.
While you deliberate and ask yourself what the very best way is to spend your massive wealth, the lives of ordinary people are passing, crushed under worry and scarcity.
(I am totally on board to try any immortality tech y’all come up with, because I think you will need an immortal space librarian in this future, the one we all get to together.)
If you are a billionaire who is not Jeff Bezos and you are reading this, please just substitute your name in for his, I’m not picky. Elon Musk, I have been trying to remotely beam these ideas into your brain for years. Call me.