San Antonio Launching First Bookless Public Library

Cloned Milkmen/CC BY-SA 2.0

Hey, remember when using the Dewey Decimal System with card catalogs disappeared from libraries because it was so outdated? Hey, remember when books disappeared from libraries because they were so outdated?

A new public library in San Antonio will be entirely bookless, instead loaning out ereaders and thousands of titles for the devices. The idea is to help close the digital divide at least a little, and allow people who can't afford to buy e-readers a chance to use them on a regular, and free, basis. This library wants to bring e-readers to the masses, allowing library patrons to check out the devices, rent ebooks, or read books electronically onsite.

The idea comes from Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff. He and other county leaders announced the plans for the nation's first bookless public library system, BiblioTech, on Friday, and have hopes for the first branch to open in the fall, reports San Antonio Express.

“It's not a replacement for the (city) library system, it's an enhancement,” Wolff said.

As an enhancement, however, it seems that the bookless version of a library could simply be a service added on to existing libraries, without the need for new buildings that simply house rows of computers and reading desks (things many existing libraries already have anyway). But this effort is not just about adding a service on to where libraries already exist -- it is more about providing an inexpensive but vital service to areas that have no existing libraries, and to people whose only access to reading material would be through such a lending system.

San Antonio Express reports, "With rampant growth in unincorporated areas, and with San Antonio's policy of not annexing more territory, Bexar County needs its own countywide [library] system... 'People in those outlying areas have no library services, so this would be a relatively inexpensive way to bring those services to them,' Wolff said."

As is, at least $250,000 would be needed to license the first 10,000 book titles, not to mention the costs of designing and constructing the spaces. Luckily, the team is looking at using existing spaces such as sites located in shopping malls or county-owned buildings.

Another question of waste is that of e-waste. It would be interesting to see an analysis of how long e-readers would be kept in circulation (would they have longer or shorter lives than those owned by individuals, and how quickly would models be considered outdated?); how they are dealt with when they break (will there be someone onsite to fix them?); and how they are disposed of and replaced at end of life. These are always important questions not only for this project but in general as the technology makes its way into public spaces from libraries to classrooms.

There is no stopping the shift toward e-readers as a way of accessing reading material -- both books and magazines -- so it is simply a matter of how we take on the change. Developing libraries dedicated to e-readers instead of printed books is certainly one approach, especially as a way to close the digital divide and bring access to learning materials for people who otherwise do not have access.

Tags: Electronics | Gadgets | Technology

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