It’s Coming: The Bookless Public Library

Bexar County, home to San Antonio Texas, is going to develop a bookless library system with the first branch opening in the fall. The county system will operate side-by-side with San Antonio system, which has physical books.

Bexar County’s BiblioTech library system won’t have a legacy of paper. It’ll be designed for, not adapted to, the digital age, Wolff said.

I applaud this effort on the face of it, but I think questions linger.

It all appears a bit premature to me. Even if the long term trajectory is for paper books to go extinct, I don’t think we are anywhere near that reality now. Users still read a lot of paper books, whether from preference or the affordability of eReaders and tablets. Also, a bookless library seems unconcerned with children’s literacy. I am not sure what the plan is for BiblioTech, but I am skeptical that any collection of ebooks or tablet apps will beat a large collection of children’s material. Finally, publishers are still not 100% behind giving access to their ebooks to libraries. This leaves a gigantic short fall in the coverage and availability of titles for any aspiring bookless library.

However, the fact that the Bexar County system will be operating in the same community as the San Antonio City Library system may answer some of these questions. They will be catering to those who primarily wish to do research on a computer or don’t mind checking out eReaders with limited amount of books. If users, such as children, need physical books, they can go to the city system. But this would seem to suggest that any bookless library couldn’t operate without access to a traditional library.

The first branch to test out the idea will be opened on the south side of the city. This is explained as an attempt at:

providing them a service that anybody else that has money would have..

Attempting to bridge the digital divide, in other words. This is also to be praised. Those in the library profession are acutely aware of the need to expand access to computers and the internet. In fact, this may be the best reason to open such branches. I could envision future library systems with large branches that still have physical books and satellite branches that only have computers and digital collections. It may be cheaper to open several digital branches as opposed to developing a physical collection for one smaller branch.

An intriguing experiment and I will be interested in its progress when the first branch opens in the fall. I have my doubts, but perhaps its opening will be more prophetic than not.

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1 Comment

Filed under Future

One response to “It’s Coming: The Bookless Public Library

  1. Pingback: Another Look at the Digital Divide « Earthpages.org

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