Bexar County has approved plans for the country’s first completely bookless public library system, with an experimental branch set to open on the county’s south side by the end of summer. This futuristic scheme, cleverly dubbed BiblioTech, was presented last week by County Judge Nelson Wolff, and instantly piqued nationwide interest.
Wolff, who “reads hardcover books” and boasts a thousand first editions in his personal library, doesn’t seem like the type to lead this digital undertaking, but the judge says he is realistic. “The world is changing,” Wolff said. He believes that future generations will have little practical use for books made of paper.
In addition to bringing a public library to the area—Bexar County currently pays San Antonio $3.7 million a year to use its system—the facility will provide better technological access to lower-income groups, Wolff argued. The South Side branch will vaguely resemble an Apple store, featuring rows of computer stations, laptops, and tablets. In addition, 100 e-readers will be available for residents to check out and bring home.
Bexar County is not the first district that has tried to ditch books. The Tuscon-Pima Public Library system in Arizona opened a book-free branch in 2002, aiming to bring computer access to an area in need. However, after six years, the community demanded books and was granted its request. Two years ago, Newport, California pondered a bookless library that would serve as a community center and still offer books through a Netflix-esque system, but the plan was quickly quashed by public outcry.
Academic libraries have met more success. Nearby University of Texas at San Antonio has had an entirely digital library since 2010, and “the students love it,” according to Library Dean Krisellen Maloney.
In addition to the protest of physical book-lovers, an obstacle to the project is copyright technicalities. Major publishers, such as Penguin, have been hesitant to electronically partner with libraries, PCWorld notes. In 2011, Penguin pulled its e-books from libraries for security reasons.
Fast Company blog Co.Exist reassures bibliophiles that BiblioTech is likely not “some harbinger of dystopian future”; libraries that revolve less and less around books may still serve an important function. As McAllen Library Director Kate Horan commented after the opening of McAllen’s impressively designed library last fall, libraries “have evolved to be more of a community space.” Bexar County’s bookless library will certainly put that to the test.