January 8, 2014

Texas library: “Who needs books?”


BiblioTech in San Antonio is the first bookless public library in the US.

BiblioTech in San Antonio is the first bookless public library in the US.

A public library in San Antonio, TX has taken the digital age to the next level, Paul J. Weber writes for the Associated Press (picked up here by USA Today), by eliminating books from the premises entirely. Called BiblioTech, it’s the first public library in the country to go fully digital.

Weber notes that with the rows of iMacs and iPads lining the space, and library employees in matching shirts and hoodies, BiblioTech resembles an Apple Store more than anything else. And in addition to the high-tech kiosks, it has hundreds of tablets available for anybody with a library card to borrow. Some visitors have praised the library for its innovative approach; Mary Graham, vice president of South Carolina’s Charleston Metro Chamber of Commerce, said, “This is the future. If you’re going to be building new library facilities, this is what you need to be doing.”

Others, though, aren’t as enthusiastic, such as local student Abigail Reyes, who told Weber, “I kind of miss the books. I don’t like being on the tablets and stuff like that. It hurts my eyes.” There’s been more widespread resistance against libraries without books in other communities—including Newport Beach, CA in 2011 and Tucson, AZ years before that.

Despite the state-of-the-art gadgets, a bookless library turns out to be more cost-effective than a traditional one. BiblioTech cost about $2.3 million to get up and running, whereas a new library in nearby Austin, scheduled to open in 2016, will take $120 million. A big part of the reason for that is the architecture required for a building intended to house thousands of books, which has to be designed to hold the weight of all those tomes. Beyond that, head librarian Ashley Elkholf explains, there seems to be a higher degree of respect toward the expensive devices. At her former job at a high school library in Madison, WI, she dealt with “misshelved items hopelessly lost in the stacks, pages thoughtlessly ripped out of books and items that went unreturned by patrons who were unfazed by measly fines and lax enforcement.” But since BiblioTech opened four months ago, none of the e-readers that have been lent out have gone missing.

Any resident of Bexar County can get a library card for access to its services, including the ability to take out an e-reader loaded with up to five books at a time.


Nick Davies is a publicist at Melville House.