2013-01-16

Co.Exist

In the Future, Will Libraries Look More Like Apple Stores?

A new library in Texas appears to be normal, until you realize it doesn’t have any books in it.

In Bexar County, Texas, the center of the San Antonio metropolitan area’s breakneck growth, a population boom has left some residents without adequate library access. A new initiative will fill that void with new centers of knowledge that look a lot like libraries—but with an important exception: locals who enter won’t find a single book on its shelves.

Welcome to the BiblioTech, the country’s first bookless public library system.

"The ever changing landscape of technology means that literacy is no longer about picking up a physical book and being able to comprehend the words. Technology is changing the way we read, learn, and thrive as citizens of the 21st century," explains Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff .

But before bibliophiles have a chance to revolt, he’s quick to point out that the BiblioTech libraries are intended as a cost-effective and forward-thinking way to supplement existing library service in San Antonio, where books abound. Typically it has been up to cities and towns to provide librairies. This is the fist time that the county is starting its own. So the BiblioTech will just be another option for many San Antonio-area residents, but the primary option for many as well.

Patrons at the BiblioTech will access books via e-readers, ether on-site or by checking them out to take home. Those with their own e-readers could access the library’s collection remotely as well using their library card. The proposal recommends filling the space with 150 e-readers with access to 10,000 current titles and tens of thousands more classics, as well as 50 computers, 25 laptops, and 25 tablets.

"If you want to get an idea what it looks like, go into an Apple store,” Wolff told the San Antonio Express-News.

While it’s a smart idea not to build a new library system around books—a dated technology in the midst of a digital revolution—it’s also unlikely that the Bibliotech is some harbinger of dystopian future of libraries bereft of books. Two other attempts to create public bookless libraries—one in Newport Beach, California, and the other in Tucson, Arizona—ended with book-loving citizens getting their way: Plans for the Newport Beach bookless project were nixed altogether after a public outcry, and in Tucson, books were added to the shelves after a six-year dry spell.

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