what’s a library without any printed books?

In today’s BBC News online there’s an article about a new paperless library opening in the summer in Bexar County, Texas, in the United States.

BBC-1 “… Bexar County’s so-called BiblioTech is a low-cost project with big ambitions. Its first branch will be in a relatively poor district on the city of San Antonio’s South Side…

It will have 100 e-readers on loan, and dozens of screens where the public will be able to browse, study, and learn digital skills…

It will be a truly book-less library – although that is not a phrase much to the liking of BiblioTech’s project co-ordinator, Laura Cole. She prefers the description “digital library” – after all, there will be books there, but in digital form …”



51S2SJAHCYL._AA160_ One of the first mentions of a book-less bookshop was  in 1961 in Stanislaw Lem’s book, Return from the Stars. His description of the book-less shop, written over 50 years ago,  seems uncannily like the new BiblioTech. What do you think of an all “digital library”? Is this the beginning of the end for libraries as we known them? If so, is it a bad thing? Can you see yourself using one? Do you think the “opton” could be the first mention ever of a Kindle? 

ReturnFromTheStars *”…I spent the afternoon in a bookstore. There were no books in it. None had been printed for nearly half a century. And how I have looked forward to them, after the micro films that made up the library of the Prometheus! No such luck. No longer was it possible to browse among shelves, to weigh volumes in hand, to feel their heft, the promise of ponderous reading. The bookstore resembled, instead, an electronic laboratory. The books were crystals with recorded contents. They can be read the aid of an opton, which was similar to a book but had only one page between the covers. At a touch, successive pages of the text appeared on it. But optons were little used, the sales-robot told me. The public preferred lectons – like lectons read out loud, they could be set to any voice, tempo, and modulation. Only scientific publications having a very limited distribution were still printed, on a plastic imitation paper. Thus all my purchases fitted into one pocket, though there must have been almost three hundred titles. My handful of crystal corn – my books …”

*I found the above extract in Lukasz Bejnar’s essay, Market of (Un)Limited Possibilities and Building e-book Collection in an Academic Library (a Case Study), Wrocław University of Technology – Main Library, Poland lukasz.bejnar@pwr.wroc.pl
INFORUM 2011: 17th Conference on Professional Information Resources Prague, May 24-26, 2011

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8 Responses to what’s a library without any printed books?

  1. Julie G says:

    Stanislav Lem obviously never experienced the delight of using a kindle, or that passage would have sounded a lot more positive!

    As a fan of digital media I have to say the digital library idea sounds great: a place where everybody can access information, whether in digital book format or online and probably cheaper than setting up a library with “real” books.

    On a sidenote: Stanislav seems also to have misjudged people’s affinity to lectures. I know audiotapes are quite popular with people on commutes, but I can’t imagine curling up on my sofa to listen to someone reading a story to me!

  2. I too like my Kindle/e-reader and think the Bibliotech is a good idea in theory, especially as it sounds as if there would be no library in Bexar County otherwise as they say they couldn’t afford to have a traditional library. I suppose it’s a nostalgia thing with me. Traditional libraries were so much of my life growing up – and still are. But, on the other hand, why not? But I do think it is incredible is how Stanislaw imagined/predicted the digital change so accurately – and in 1961! And, while, like you I don’t like listening to audiobooks much, I know so many people who do. So maybe he was right about those lectons too?
    Thanks for your comment 🙂

    • Julie G says:

      I’m probably also speaking from the point of view of living in Brazil. I live right next to a state capital, but the only libraries are at the universities.
      Sure, I’d love to see them build a library filled with books, but seeing as that’s not likely, I really think a digital library would be the next best thing – especially for children and state schools that have no funding for books.
      I think I’m nostalgic about old books – like my mum’s 1960s boarding school cookbook featuring advice to skin a rabbit and suet pudding – but not so much new ones – I’d much rather have my kindle and instant dictionary.

  3. Wendy Clarke says:

    I like the paper, the thickness, the physical cover, the ability to flick, and the weight of a real book in my hand. I have an impersonal kindle but in my view (apart from the fact that I can slip it easily into my bad) there’s no contest.

    • Yes, it’s hard not to like a paper book and I can’t imagine them disappearing completely. Maybe paper books will be like vinyl and there will be special editions and special shops where you can buy them? I wonder if there will be more Bibliotechs in the US or if it’s a one-off? Or if they will come to the UK? With people like Mr Terry Deary saying libraries are an unnecessary expense … or words to that effect… and libraries being forced to close because of cuts, a BibioTech library could give the public access to books in an affordable way, which would otherwise be denied them. It’s certainly going to be interesting how it develops.
      Thanks for comment 🙂

  4. Ruth F Hunt says:

    In the UK as local authority budgets are cut, I think libraries such as this which don’t require such large buildings may become more common. I think this would be a shame as for some poor children living in relative or absolute poverty can’t afford kindles or indeed, computers in some cases. Older people also don’t tend to use new media as much as younger people. Libraries are not just places for storing books they are meeting places and vital for smaller community groups. So I think we should try and support libraries as much as we can. Surely, they can stock both books and new media as many do.

  5. I can’t imagine an only e-book library like the BiblioTech in the UK, but what happens in the US often comes here eventually and what do I know? So far, the libraries where I live have offer both options, which makes us very lucky. As you say, libraries are not just places for storing and lending books, they are community centres too, could they still do that if they were an all digital? Maybe? What I do worry about the most is definitely accessibility. I agree poor children/people in absolute poverty can’t afford kindles/e-readers and/or computers. What would they do? And older people, like my Aunty Sue, who is 88 and still a regular user, would be bewildered by a BiblioTech. Her library is her lifeline to knowledge, education and her independence – she even learnt to swim from books borrowed from the library. It’s certainly food for thought.
    Thanks for comment, Ruth 🙂

  6. Pingback: why are some publishers publishing e-books on paper? | Marianne Wheelaghan

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