San Antonio seems to have a thing for bookless libraries. First, the University of Texas in San Antonio opened the nation’s first bookless library in 2010. Then a San Antonio judge had ambitions of opening the nation’s first bookless public library system last year.

Turns out he was successful. Local NBC affiliate NBCDFW has an article on the library system, which has been in operation for four months now and may surpass 100,000 visitors by the end of its first year. Opened in a low-income neighborhood, the library full of iMacs, iPads, and e-readers helps bring literacy and the Internet to a part of town where there aren’t even any bookstores and wi-fi access points are few and far between. And the local residents certainly aren’t staying away.

According to the article, the library sports 700 e-readers, 200 enhanced Nook e-readers for children, 48 Mac desktop computers, nine Mac laptops, and 40 iPads. The library’s web site FAQ notes BiblioTech uses the 3M Cloud Library, which we’ve previously mentioned here.

Head librarian Ashley Elkholf came from a traditional Wisconsin high school library and recalled the scourges of her old job: mishelved items hopelessly lost in the stacks, pages thoughtlessly ripped out of books and items that went unreturned by patrons who were unfazed 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. "Books are heavy, if you’ve ever had one fall on your foot."

I will admit, I’ve been skeptical about the idea of a completely bookless library, even though some of the branches of the library back in Springfield were nearly that. For example, a branch on the town’s historic Park Central Square consisted of a couple dozen computers, places to sit and tables for laptops, and maybe a few hundred books. Though you could request books from any other part of the system be delivered there for pickup. But BiblioTech doesn’t have any paper books in its system at all—just e-books. I wonder how they handle interlibrary loan requests?

Regardless, it’s an intriguing idea, and I have a feeling a lot of library systems are going to be watching this to see how it goes.


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