Tag Archives: Public library

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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To cross…that magic threshold into a library…

Official photographic portrait of US President...

Official photographic portrait of US President Barack Obama (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

“At the moment that we persuade a child, any child, to cross that threshold, that magic threshold into a library, we change their lives forever, for the better.”
— President (then Senator) Barack Obama

Barack Obama was reelected as President of the United States of America a couple of weeks ago so I thought it only fitting to find a quote from him. He said this when he was a Senator, but he has mentioned libraries several times and I hope that it is an indication of the value he finds in libraries. The President, and the US government, have a lot on their table but I hope, as budget and economic negotiations continue, that Public Libraries will be on their radar as a worthy investment.

Personally, I don’t have a single memory of the first time I entered a library but more of a montage of images and impressions. I grew up in a small Texas town and the library was in an old downtown store that had closed. The light was dim and the smell of old books permeated the air. The collection was small, but I do remember getting books and possibly going to a few story times. I am not even sure how it was funded, and after searching on Google, it doesn’t appear to exist anymore. I have stronger impressions of the elementary school library, where I cultivated an early interest in all things science; and since I was at school everyday, it was a more convenient place to check out books. For me, it was the school library that provided that magic threshold into a world of knowledge and imagination. While no one book sticks out in my mind, I do recall spending hours in the astronomy section, learning the planets and being fascinated with drawings of space stations. I would check out whatever series the teacher happened to be reading to us in class, reading as many of the installments as I could, the titles of which are now lost from my memory. I left the town when I was twelve.

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Access to knowledge is…the supreme act of truly great civilizations

English: Toni Morrison speaking at "A Tri...

Photo credit: Wikipedia

“Access to knowledge is the superb, the supreme act of truly great civilizations. Of all the institutions that purport to do this, free libraries stand virtually alone in accomplishing this.” — Toni Morrison

Toni Morrison hits the nail on the head. A civilization that would jeopardize this access  has taken a step backward. Often the value of a library is framed as a utilitarian argument: What are they good for? Can’t people get books and information else where? However, there are some things we value because they are imbedded in the foundation of our culture and not for their pragmatic use. Strong arguments can be made that libraries aid in job training, early literacy, employment and other tangible benefits; however, the library is also important for supporting the purist of knowledge as an intrinsic value. This election season, when you participate in our democratic civilization, no matter who you are voting for and if it is on the ballot, vote to support your library.

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A Library Super PAC!

Well, not exactly a Super Pac, but it got your attention. In reality, EveryLibrary is a 501 (c) 4 social welfare orginization. It is hard to tell the difference and no one wants to go around saying 501 (c) 4 social welfare orginization. What is great about EveryLibrary is that it really is a social welfare orginization lobbying on behalf of libraries in elections and legistlation, as opposed to just hiding under the tax status to collect unlimited funding to pay for attack ads. But don’t take my word for it:

EveryLibrary is seeking initial funding resources to become established as a 501(c)(4) nonprofit social welfare organization chartered to work exclusively on local library ballot initiatives. The organization will be registered in Illinois after reaching our funding/pledge goal from individual, corporate, union, and foundation donors.  We will work in partnership with local library campaign leaders and independently to advocate for specific library initiatives among the voting public.

EveryLibrary will be the first and only national organization dedicated exclusively to political action at a local level to create, renew, and protect public funding for libraries of all types. We will provide tactical and operational support to local voter awareness campaigns, seed and sustaining monies to local ballot committees and PACs, as well as conducting direct voter advocacy in support of library taxing, bonding, and referendum.

A long term complaint about libraries is we don’t make our case very well to the public. This was made apparant to me when I was at a county training and someone asked me if people still came to the library. Of course they do! But that person shouldn’t have to ask that. At that same meeting it was related that there is a disconnect between the public perception of the value of the library and the public need for a library. During good times the library ranks low on a list of priorities but during a recession the public grows upset when hours and services are cut. Public libraries need to bridge that gap and make the case that libraries are important at all times and EveryLibrary is part of the solution of making the case for public libraries. Especially now as city and county government deal with shrinking budgets.

Visit the site, learn more about it, and share with your friends.

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A public library is the most enduring of memorials…

Mark Twain, 1907

“A public library is the most enduring of memorials, the trustiest monument for the preservation of an event or a name or an affection; for it, and it only, is respected by wars and revolutions, and survives them” — Mark Twain

This quote resonates most profoundly today as many libraries face increasing budgets short falls and the rise of eBooks. However, the spirit of the quote is still apt and Twain is right in singling out the library as being something whose purpose and value endure despite the passage of time and the ravishes of war. Libraries exist not just to provide access to information but to preserve information. Many local artifacts find their way to public libraries and archives and wouldn’t exist or be publicaly avaible if not for the library. While books may go out of print due to low demand or expiring copyright, libraries hold on to these materials as long as possible, hoping that a reader may stumble upon it while browsing.

What are your thougths on Twain’s quote? How does it reflect on the status of public libraries today?

*As a side note, I am hoping this will become a regular feautre: Quotes to Muse. I’ll locate a quote about libraries (usually from a person of note) and muse on it. And you’re thoughts are always welcome.

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