San Antonio’s Bexar County will open the country’s first “bookless” public library with plans to expand the service county-wide. The Bexar County Commissioner’s Court says “The pilot BiblioTech, located on the South Side, will offer residents thousands of electronic titles; access to desktop, laptop and tablet computers; and e-readers that can be checked out by patrons.” The library is the brain-child of County Judge Nelson Wolff, who says that if you want to know what the library will look like, you should take a tour of an Apple store.
BiblioTech isn’t being built as a replacement for the city’s existing library services, but as an enhancement and a way to provide library access to citizens in “unincorporated areas of the county” who are a long drive from the city’s existing branches. I’m no librarian, so I can’t speak to the intricacies of what this project must involve, but I have a few uncollected thoughts and questions I would like to explore:
-What ABOUT the librarians? This project isn’t part of the library system, so are there any librarians overseeing its construction or development? The original article mentions “staff” or “personnel” but downplays the importance of books in a library- something that might make librarians less willing to work there (Maybe? Librarians, sound off!).
-While “bookless” library models seem to be working in academia, they’re not working elsewhere. As the article notes, a proposal to make one of Newport Beach’s libraries bookless failed due to public opposition, and a small bookless library in Arizona was forced to add physical volumes because of community pressure.
-Will folks who don’t have a regular library to begin with be open to all ebooks, all the time? The residents of the community have complained before that they don’t have a bookstore–not an ebook buying hub. A bookstore. Will they use this service enough to justify the cost? Wouldn’t it make more sense to use funds to expand the existing library service out to the county, and to offer this digital service as a bonus to those who want it?
-What will the catalogue look like? With so many backlist books not yet available digitally, are the patrons going to be limited to best-sellers and public domain classics?
-The idea is being presented as a method of combatting illiteracy, but is this really going to accomplish that? Or is it going to combat digital illiteracy (which is obviously worth combatting in this day and age, but might not necessarily be what the developers are hoping for)?
This rambling list of maybe-objections makes it sound like I’m a Luddite-ish curmudgeon, but I have no issue with digital library services. I’m a frequent user of my library’s e-book services. I just doubt the wisdom of putting an expensive all-digital library in a community that has asked for a physical bookstore, and doing so without the input or guidance of the existing library system.
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