US library offers glimpse of bookless future

Jan 03, 2014 by Paul J. Weber
A woman points at a computer screen at BiblioTech, a first of its kind digital public library, Wednesday, Dec. 11, 2013, in San Antonio. Bexar County's BibiloTech is the nation's only bookless public library, according to information gathered by the American Library Association, a distinction that has attracted scores of digital bookworms, plus emissaries from as far away as Hong Kong who want to learn about the idea and possibly take it home. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)

(AP)—The future of the public library looks a lot like an Apple Store. Rows of glossy iMacs and iPads beckon. Hundreds of other tablets stand ready for checkout to anyone with a borrowing card.

This $2.3 million library in Texas has no actual books. That makes BibiloTech the nation's only bookless public library, a distinction that has attracted people from as far away as Hong Kong who want to learn about the idea and possibly take it home.

All-digital libraries have been on college campuses for years. But Bexar County, which runs no other libraries, made history when it decided to open BiblioTech. It is the first bookless public library system in the country, according to information gathered by the American Library Association.

San Antonio is the nation's seventh-largest city but ranks 60th in literacy, according to census figures. In the early 2000s, community leaders in Bibliotech's neighborhood of low-income apartments and thrift stores complained about not even having a nearby bookstore, said Laura Cole, BiblioTech's project coordinator. A decade later, Cole said, most families in the area still don't have wi-fi.

"How do you advance literacy with so few resources available?" she said.

Juan Castilleja uses a computer at BiblioTech, a first of its kind digital public library, Wednesday, Dec. 11, 2013, in San Antonio. Bexar County's BibiloTech is the nation's only bookless public library. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)

Residents are taking advantage now. The library is on pace to surpass 100,000 visitors in its first year. Finding an open iMac among the four dozen at BiblioTech is often difficult after school lets out, and about half of the facility's e-readers are checked out at any given time, each loaded with up to five books.

Head librarian Ashley Elkholf came from a traditional library and recalled the troubles of her old job: misshelved items hopelessly lost in the stacks, pages thoughtlessly ripped out of books and items that went unreturned by patrons who were not intimidated by measly fines and lax enforcement.

But in the nearly four months since BiblioTech opened, Elkholf has yet to lend out one of her pricey tablets and never see it again. The space is also more economical than traditional libraries despite the technology: BiblioTech purchases its 10,000-title digital collection for the same price as physical copies, but the county saved millions on architecture because the building's design didn't need to accommodate printed books.

"If you have bookshelves, you have to structure the building so it can hold all of that weight," Elkholf said.

Patrons use computers at BiblioTech, a first of its kind digital public library, Wednesday, Dec. 11, 2013, in San Antonio. Bexar County's BibiloTech is the nation's only bookless public library, according to information gathered by the American Library Association, a distinction that has attracted scores of digital bookworms, plus emissaries from as far away as Hong Kong who want to learn about the idea and possibly take it home. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)

Up the road in Austin, for example, the city is building a downtown library to open in 2016 at a cost of $120 million. Even a smaller traditional public library that recently opened in nearby Kyle cost that city about $1 million more than BiblioTech.

On her first visit, 19-year-old Abigail Reyes got a quick tutorial from a librarian on how to search for digital books and check out tablets.

"I kind of miss the books," Reyes said. "I don't like being on the tablets and stuff like that. It hurts my eyes."

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Eikka
not rated yet Jan 03, 2014
The difference is that when the intellectual property owner of those books decides that you've had enough reading and they haven't had enough money, or that they're not interested in maintaining the data because it costs them money, the entire library vanishes in one click.

It's hard to destroy and deny access to physical books.
alfie_null
not rated yet Jan 04, 2014
From the picture, lacks ambiance. They should at least put some art on the walls. Or maybe e-art (iArt?).

The article is a little misleading. San Antonio, where the library is located, does in fact have public libraries. Some 26 branches. Just none, apparently, run by the county.

Along with the increasing prevalence of e-books, I'd argue the state of copyright law needs to be addressed. Recall the reason for copyright protection is to provide incentive for creation of new work. Current duration provides way more than what is necessary. It's harmful precisely because of the issues alluded to in Eikka's comment above.
antialias_physorg
5 / 5 (1) Jan 04, 2014
It's an interesting concept but still needs some tweaks. The fixed readers require the user to fit himself to the reader. This is one of the (often overlooked) advantages of books (and small e-book readers): You can read them in any position that is comfortable for you - not just the position that is comfortable for the display.

There's also a caveat with going to full digital: Digital information is malleable - even in post. Massive rewrites of history ('history hacking' if you so will) become possible.
Eikka
not rated yet Jan 05, 2014
Recall the reason for copyright protection is to provide incentive for creation of new work.


Not really. The intent of copyright is to allow an author or a rights holder to monopolize the results of the author's work in order to profit from the resulting artifical scarcity.

There was never a lack of incentive to do work that was paid for, that was good enough to be paid for. Art always has its patrons. The point of copyrights is to allow the rightsholder to be paid more than simply a fixed compensation for a fixed amount of work. A printer therefore is no longer paid for just the printing, because they're the only one allowed to print and sell a particular book. That's a much more lucrative business model than letting just everyone print the same book.

The only reason we still have copyrights is because people are successfully conditioned to think that we'd have no art otherwise. In reality it just enables "career artists" who are deliberately mediocre to save effort.
Eikka
not rated yet Jan 05, 2014
The fundamental problem is that Intellectual Property does not work like Physical Property. With PP there's a connection between price, quantity, because it actually costs something to make one more of a thing.

With IP there is no connection between price and quantity - simply because quantity is fundamentally unlimited while supply is artifically and arbitrarily limited. Therefore there is no right price for a book, since the argument of supply and demand falls flat on its face.

So the value of a copy of art produced under a copyright regime is purely imaginary. It's based on lies and successful manipulation of masses to hand over their money unaware of how much money is being handed over to whom in the first place.
TheGhostofOtto1923
1 / 5 (1) Jan 05, 2014
"I kind of miss the books," Reyes said. "I don't like being on the tablets and stuff like that. It hurts my eyes."

-So go to Barnes and noble. The books aren't all dirty and greasy, you can get a good cup of coffee and some gnosh, and you can buy dr who or Harry potter or spiderman kitsch. Until they go out of business like borders that is.

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