Tablets, e-readers and digital books have boomed in popularity in the past few years. Despite the shift to digital reading, there are still those who cling to physical books for the actual turn of the page, smell of the book and pile-up of resources on their bookshelves.
San Antonio, Tex. does not fall into that category. The city’s south side will be home to the first bookless public library system, BiblioTech, this fall. Don’t worry about bringing your own device, either – the library will carry 100 actual e-readers for users to check out. The Nook Simple Touch appears to be the facility’s e-reader of choice. Checking out a book is similar to the traditional library process; you have two weeks with the book and then the digital copy will disappear.
Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff is behind the project, who was inspired by reading Steve Jobs’ biography. According to Wolff, the facility is an enhancement to the city library system and is designed for, not adapted to, the digital age. The University of Texas at San Antonio opened one of the first bookless academic libraries in 2010, and officials say the outcome has been successful.
Image via My San Antonio
Digital libraries are not a new concept. According to the American Library Association, about three-quarters of public libraries offer e-books. Services such as OverDrive and OneClick Digital have been adopted by local libraries, and Amazon offers a digital library for Kindle. The most common complaint, however, is the waitlist for copies of books. Consumers today are growing so accustomed to the “what I want and when I want” on-demand service that a long waitlist causes frustration.
Simon and Schuster, HarperCollins and Random House sell books to libraries in digital form, but require libraries to pay a fee to renew the license.
"HarperCollins uses a model where we can license a book, and we have 26 circulations for that one book," said Brian Kenney, director of the White Plains Public Library in New York, in an NPR interview. "It is the same model that we have in print: one book, one user at a time." But after 26 people have read that book, the library must pay a fee — usually $25 to $35 — to renew the license. Kenney says libraries initially found the idea off-putting, but "now it's a model I work with. It makes a degree of sense."
Google recently partnered with Israeli authorities to put 5,000 fragments of the ancient Dead Sea scrolls online. The digital library featured important texts such as the Book of Deuteronomy, which includes the Ten Commandments, and a portion of the first chapter of the Book of Genesis, dated to the first century B.C.
Digital is definitely the future, but the journey getting there will involve getting rid of kinks and making digital libraries a smooth process to reach mainstream adoption. BiblioTech is one of the first steps in making that happen.
Edited by Jamie Epstein