The future of libraries is here

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.


  1. I know that my library used Overdrive, and I was constantly frustrated with the small selection of ebooks and they were never available. As a result, I don’t believe I ever checked any books out with it. However, we took the plunge (tiny library in a town of 2500 people) and bought a kindle and a nook for lending. My director and I loaded them up with some purchased content, but a lot more free books. When I designed the library website, I included links to some popular free ebook sites like Project Gentenburg, manybooks, and the Baen free library. I know I had patrons who enjoyed that feature, as I helped some of them learn how to side-load content on their ereaders. It is the wave of the future, and libraries need to learn at the least, how to use it so they can help their patrons.

    1. Cedar, I used to use Overdrive for audiobooks. But whenever I’ve tried to use it for e-books, I’ve never been able to get what I wanted. It’s not the library’s fault. They can only afford to contract for so much with Overdrive. I’m hoping there will soon be some viable competition for Overdrive. That will help libraries and that, in turn, will help their patrons. And you’re right, this is the wave of the future.

      1. Oh, I know it isn’t the library. In NH, overdrive is administered at the state, not the local level. Which is why I provided links for patrons to find free reads, at least they had something, then.

        1. I think it’s great your library let you do that. Too many would have balked at providing links outside of those that would actually bring some sort of recompense or cost analysis justification to them.

          1. I think it’s because my boss had this attitude of ‘what can we get away with?” when it came to giving our patrons what they wanted. Small libraries in NH have a lot of autonomy.

  2. A library without books is just wrong. Tech Smech A library should have books or it isn’t a library

    1. Sanford, I agree. However, that’s our generation talking. More and more schools and universities are going to digital only texts. University libraries are going digital. Paper is becoming the exception and not the rule, so libraries have to adapt just as publishers do. But that doesn’t mean I have to like it.

  3. It all depends on what the patrons want. A Public library is a pre-paid service. Balancing the wide range of patron wants is what can drive a library director crazy. How much do we (as librarians) spend for each category – book (fiction & non-fic), newspapers, magazines, audio & video, was part of the annual budget balancing act. Which provides the best value? Not having to go through that process is part of what I like about being retired, but I do miss the personal interaction.

    1. John, having watched our librarians go through that same process, I’m glad I don’t have to do it. That’s especially true now that they have to consider the different media for books — print, digital, audio, etc.

      1. The only saving grace we had was we were part of a larger consortium that was the 2nd largest library system in the state of Idaho, so we had a bit of wiggle room in the budget and could occasionally get the same item in different media, and we could expand our digital rights acquisitions such as Overdrive.

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