Over the past couple of years bookless libraries have popped up on both K-12 and college campuses. But, other than making digital versions of the latest Hunger Games novel available for borrowing with your e-reader, public libraries are still bastions of traditional hardback and softcover texts. Well, Bexar County, Texas is taking the plunge and embracing the electronic era. This fall they plan to open BiblioTech, the first fully digital public library in America.
Judge Nelson Wolff, the driving force behind the digital library, told the San Antonio Express News that although he is a book lover with over a 1,000 first editions in his personal collection, the future is a fully digital experience. If you're wondering what the library will look like, well, Wolff got inspired while reading Steve Jobs' biography so look no further than your local Apple store.
Along with a sleek design, BiblioTech will come equipped with e-readers that can be used on-site or taken home for a set period of time. Patrons will then be able to download the books of their choice and enjoy them in the comfort of their own home, just as you can now with a traditional text.
The plan to open BiblioTech, which will be located in a county building on the south side of Bexar County, is being met with enthusiasm by community and school leaders in the area. The community around the proposed location currently has no public library and is home to a lower income population. Rey Madrigal, the interim superintendent of the Harlandale Independent School District believes "There's no question that the children of Harlandale and our parents and this community are going to benefit," and Precinct 1 Commissioner Sergio "Chico" Rodriguez says the library is "really going to change the way that our residents begin to incorporate technology, reading and learning into their daily lives."
Of course, given that the library has yet to open, we'll have to wait and see whether people in the community embrace the bookless concept or if they begin to clamor for paper texts. After all, while some patrons may be more familiar with e-readers—especially kids who may use them in the classroom— for this to really work, the librarians that staff BiblioTech are going to need to spend plenty of time bringing folks up to speed technologically.
One of the other challenges digital libraries everywhere face is that not all books come in an electronic format, so BiblioTech will likely have to come up with some sort of solution, especially if they want to be a real resource for the community's students. However, given that Wolff acknowledges that BiblioTech is meant "not a replacement for the (city) library system" but is more of "an enhancement," perhaps a traditional library is on the horizon as well.