Texas county plans to open first U.S. all-digital library branch

You might expect the nation’s first all-digital library to open in a high-tech town like San Francisco, but Bexar County beat major metropolises to the punch.

The Texas county, whose county seat is San Antonio, plans to launch a bookless library system called BiblioTech this fall.

Many county library systems use the OverDrive network to offer Kindle books, ePub editions, or PDFs in addition to their physical collections. Bexar County is the first to create an entirely digital library.

BiblioTech mastermind Nelson Wolff, a Bexar County judge, told the San Antonio Express-News that the new library will look like an Apple store. No books, just gadgets.

So what exactly does a person do at a library with no books? BiblioTech plans to offer 100 e-readers for members to check out and take home. Sadly, just like a library book, you’ll have to return the devices after two weeks. There will also be computer stations on hand for low-income residents without Internet access.

Not the first attempt

This isn’t the first time a library has attempted to go paperless. According to NPR, a Tucson branch in 2002 tried to offer only digital options, but the community wanted real books. The library now has e-media and paper collections. Newport Beach, Calif., planned to ditch its physical books and go paperless in 2011, but once again the community protested.

The relationship between libraries and book publishers remains contentious when it comes to e-book lending. Libraries license books from publishers and can only lend them out to one borrower at a time, as if the book were real. Also, many publishers don’t even offer their e-books to libraries, a condition that will have to change if paperless libraries are to succeed.

Even if BiblioTech becomes a successful model for future digital libraries, it’s unlikely that physical library collections will die off. A good portion of the population still prefers paper books over e-readers. The Pew Internet and American Life Project found last year that 72 percent of Americans had read a paper book in the previous year, while only 17 percent had read an e-book.

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