Book-less library in San Antonio a look at what future may hold | SierraSun.com

Book-less library in San Antonio a look at what future may hold

Pam McAdoo
Special to the Sun

Editor’s Note

This is the second in a series of articles exploring the varied ways that public libraries are continuing to reinvent their services and facilities in order to respond to technological innovation and the specific needs and populations of the communities they serve.

Click here to read the first part of the series.

TRUCKEE, Calif. — When most of us think of public libraries, we picture rows and rows of bookshelves to browse, comfortable reading nooks, tables and carrel desks for reading and studying, and cozy bean bags and rocking chairs where parents and children can settle in with a picture book.

However, these days, public libraries are assuming new and different forms. In San Antonio, the Bexar County BiblioTech library is the nation’s first book-less public library.

All-digital libraries have existed on college campuses for years, where they have assumed names such as Knowledge Centers or Learning Resource Centers — but bookless public libraries are another thing.

San Antonio, the seventh largest city in the nation, ranks 60th in literacy among U.S. cities. In BibiloTech’s low-income neighborhood, most families still don’t have Wi-Fi. So when community leaders were exploring ideas for a new branch library, an all-digital library seemed like a good fit.

Although it took a little while to catch on, these days at BiblioTech, it’s often hard to find a free computer among the four dozen iMacs — especially after the nearby high school lets out — and about half the collection of the 150 e-readers is checked out at any one time.

BiblioTech has attracted curious visitors from as far away as Hong Kong who are eager to witness a digital library and its relationship to the community. The high-tech facility, which has the hip aesthetic of an Apple store, clearly serves the needs of low-income residents who can’t afford high-priced technology equipment and monthly Wi-Fi connection fees.

And because it doesn’t have to accommodate the weight of printed books and the space for shelves to house them, BiblioTech cost less to build than a traditional book-full library.

But a digital public library is not for every community. The California town of Newport Beach firmly rejected the idea of building a book-less branch. And the Tucson-Pima library in Arizona opened its new doors with just digital resources, only to eventually respond to residents’ requests by adding back books. And some San Antonio residents still prefer to read from a printed book rather than a screen.

BiblioTech has not yet passed the test of time, and it remains to be seen how long it will survive in its book-less state. It’s hard to imagine that there won’t soon be a plea for quiet spaces to read from a printed book, alone or with a young child who is just learning the joy of holding a book in her little hands.

Pam McAdoo is a board member of the Friends of the Truckee Library. Visit truckeefol.org to learn more.