Magazine article American Libraries

Paperless Libraries: When the Stacks Disappear

Magazine article American Libraries

Paperless Libraries: When the Stacks Disappear

Article excerpt

What's a library without books? That's the question a lot of people will be asking when Bexar County, Texas, opens its all-digital library, dubbed BiblioTech, in September. The bookless facility will serve an unincorporated area outside of San Antonio, offering more than 10,000 titles available for digital download and 100 e-readers on loan, as well as computer stations, digital literacy classes, and a coffee shop.

BiblioTech will allow the county to open a library in an area that previously had none, for less money and in less space than it would cost to open a facility with physical materials.

BiblioTech's head librarian, Ashley Eklof, says the facility will allow her to focus more on helping patrons connect with information and less on circulating physical books.

"My primary purpose as a librarian is to provide information access," said Eklof. "Of course, there is a technological focus when working at an all-digital library, but I feel that it is necessary for libraries and librarians in general to be tech-savvy in order to meet the changing needs of the patrons."

Because the library doesn't have to build or maintain a large facility or a physical collection of books, budgeting for e-content is easier than for most public libraries. BiblioTech will license its content through 3M Cloud Library, an ebook lending service for public libraries. 3M's system includes touch-screen "discovery stations," kiosks where users can browse ebooks on a large screen and then download them directly to the library's e-readers, or read them through an app on their own device.

In addition, the digital format allows Eklof to tailor the library's collection to the interests of her patrons.

"One perk of having our content in an electronic format is that if a patron asks for a book that we don't have in the collection, I have the ability to add it for them instantly," said Eklof.

Another goal of BiblioTech: narrowing the digital divide. The library will serve Bexar County's low-income residents who may not have home internet access or other technology tools.

The University of Texas at San Antonio (UTSA) decided to open its all-digital Applied Engineering and Technology Library for much the same reason--to serve a population that includes many low-income Hispanic students, many of whom are first-generation college students. …

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