Wow, a blog two days in a row. It almost didn’t happen because, well, it’s Saturday and I couldn’t think of anything to write about. Then a story in the Dallas Morning News caught my eye and off I went to find out more about it.
It’s no secret that there has been a lot of discussion the last few years about how the continuing growth of e-books will impact our local libraries. If you talk to a librarian, you’ll soon learn how they have to carefully budget their monies for e-books against that for print books because a number of publishers charge much more for e-books than they do for “real” books. One way some libraries have pushed back against this is to form partnerships with neighboring library systems to cut the cost of e-books. The downside of this is that there are more patrons wanting to read the same e-books, making wait times longer and often preventing a patron from re-checking the e-book.
New libraries have larger and larger tech or computer centers included in their floor plans. The Bedford (TX) Public Library is a wonderful example of how our library staff, the city and the public worked together to build a library that does its best to meet the needs of the city. However, as cutting edge as it is, it has nothing on one of the libraries in San Antonio.
BiblioTech is something new, at least here in the States. It is the nation’s only public library that has no books. When you walk inside, if you aren’t aware of what the library is, you might think you’ve walked into a tech store. The DMN compares it to walking into an Apple store, complete with librarians in matching shirts and hoodies. Instead of books, there are computers and tablets set out around the facility for use by the patrons. Tablets can be checked out, loaded with up to five e-books. It is a techies dream and yet it also signals the end of an era.
Being a cynic, my first thought was to wonder how many of the tablets had been checked out never to return. In the four months, approximately, that the library has been open, there have been no non-returns. That’s impressive.
But what is more impressive to me is the fact that San Antonio, a city that isn’t exactly one of the richest or most progressive in the country, took this bold step. In a city that ranks 60th in literacy, it had to have been seen as a gamble. Hats off to those who pushed this project through because the current numbers forecast more than 100,000 visitors to the library this year. The city listened to its citizens who have been complaining since the early 2000’s that their neighborhood didn’t even have a bookstore, much less a library (iirc).
There is an added benefit to having this revolutionary new library: it is bringing in visitors to the city. People from all around the country, and from outside of it, are visiting BiblioTech to see if it is something they can implement in their community. That means added income for the city.
Am I advocating that all libraries should go this way? No. I like going into a building filled with books and being able to find one and just sit and read for a bit. However, I will be watching to see how BiblioTech does because it can show that libraries can be successful even without physical books.
There’s another reason a library like BiblioTech interests me. The Bedford Library was closed once after a tax rollback. For weeks our city had the ignoble distinction of having lost our library due to a lack of funding. Unfortunately, that is now becoming a reality for more and more cities and towns across the nation. Through BiblioTech, San Antonio has shown that you can have a library but that you don’t have to spend as much on the facility — both the building of those facilities and in the maintenance — because a bookless library doesn’t have to be as large or meet the structural requirements that a regular library does.
This is an experiment I’ll be watching with interest and I hope San Antonio continues to embrace BiblioTech as much in the future as it appears to be now.
For more information, here’s a link to BiblioTech.