Bookless libraries?

No doubt you’ve seen the provocative headlines regarding Bexar County, Texas and its planned “bookless public  library,”  the BiblioTech. Librarians across the country must be scratching their heads, since so many e-books are not available to libraries, pricing for others is much higher than for consumer editions and beyond library budgets, and lending restrictions lead to long wait times for patrons.

Mashable reports, “County officials say the BiblioTech venture will remove barriers to library access.”  I’m not even sure what this means, but it seems the officials may be unaware of the fact that their new library won’t be able to offer all the books a traditional library would. If that’s not enough, it seems a pretty big barrier to access if you need to either check out one of the library’s e-readers or have one of your own to read a book, especially since the population of Bexar County is 1,756,153 and the BiblioTech only plans to have 100-150 e-readers to circulate (media reports vary).

Even if reports of increases in tablet and e-reader ownership are accurate, that leaves hundreds of thousands of people with no way to read the BiblioTech’s digital books. Every person who enters a traditional library can access most of the collection without any special technology. THAT is barrier-free access to information.

It turns out the new all digital library is the brainchild of a judge, not a librarian. Judge Wolff says it will resemble an Apple store. Besides e-readers and the digital book collection, the BiblioTech will have meeting space and study rooms and the San Antonio Express-News reports the new library will have “personnel available to help library users with homework or other research.” Personnel? Will there be librarians?

I guess it’s pretty clear that I am skeptical. A public library that has no books seems to me to be a community download center, not a library. I’m sure some of you will disagree, and I’d like to hear your thoughts. Leave a comment and chime in!

A bookish break and more musings on e-reading

The Nocturnal Librarian has been on spring break. I visited family in Austin, TX and had a very good time. Besides good company, excellent restaurants, funky local shoppingUT’s museums, warm sunny weather, and live music, I relished the bookish delights of the Austin area. We shopped at the Austin Public Library Bookstore, Recycled Reads, and the indie bookstore BookPeople, visited the Ransom Center‘s King James Bible exhibit, and saw some of Dr. Suess’s original Lorax drawings at the LBJ Library and Museum and an exhibit of his work at Art on 5th.

On planes and in airports, I saw more e-books than print. On one flight, I noticed my seat-mate reading The Hunger Games on an iPad, (which explained why he was in no hurry to de-plane). As Michael and Ann observed on the Books On the Nightstand podcast (#170), it is increasingly hard to pick up reading ideas while traveling because e-readers make books nearly anonymous. I made a dent in my “to-read” piles and am hopeful some fellow traveler snooped on the titles, because they are both terrific: Homer & Langley by E. L. Doctorow and In the Stacks: Short Stories About Libraries and Librarians edited by Michael Cart.

When I got home I reminded my son, who is home this week, that we now subscribe to the New York Times electronically. He made a very sharp observation which I had overlooked, since my husband and I read the paper in shifts (he departs for work while nocturnal people are still sleeping). You can’t enjoy communal newspaper reading — swapping sections around the breakfast table — with an e-reader.