Dispatches from the Digital Revolution

San Antonio announces BiblioTech, a digital-only public library



Would you be inclined to take a trip to a digital-only library for your latest reading needs? This fall, perhaps residents in San Antonio will have that chance.

Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff recently announced plans to develop BiblioTech, a digital-centric library that integrates technology and reading, with no immediate plans to incorporate printed materials. (That is, except for any pages patrons choose to print out for a small charge.)

Interestingly enough, the library was inspired by Steve Jobs and Apple, which explains why the initial mockups for the store’s layout bear such a close resemblance to the iconic feel of an Apple retail store.

According to this ABC News report, the digital library will feature aisles of computers and ereaders and is envisioned to have “100 e-readers available for circulation and to take out, and then 50 e-readers for children, 50 computer stations, 25 laptops and 25 tablets on site.”

This digital library will allow patrons to check out devices, but it will also enable BYOD capabilities; users can bring whatever technogadget they have own to check out their latest ebook of interest. It is important to note that, according to the aforementioned article, “the county is still figuring out who will provide the equipment and has requests for proposals out for the e-readers and other equipment.” Indeed. That would be an important technicality to square away.

Wolff has stated in interviews that BiblioTech is not a replacement for traditional libraries, but is instead an additional resource to community members. And it’s a way to stay current and keep children engaged with books as the technology seems to evolve faster than we can blink our eyes.

Still, it sounds like a pretty big project.

According to an article from San Antonio Express News, here are some of the costs involved, along with some of the offerings:

[Laura Cole, Bexar County government aide] says initial funding from the county comes at a one-time payment of $1.5 million identified from left-over county funds.

Additionally, 2013 operational costs are estimated at $110,000, while those costs for future years come to $690,000 identified from contingency funds.

Cole said county officials identified growth in unincorporated areas of the county where residents had to travel greater distances to reach a library before deciding where to house the facility.

She added BiblioTech will have the capacity for about 50 on-site users, with around 25 laptops and tablets for public use.

Additionally, about 165 e-readers will be available, some of which will have advanced features including text-to-speech software and animation.

So, does this idea have any potential for longevity? These articles indicate that if this flagship is successful, Wolff would like to see the development of additional locations. However, this Examiner article astutely summarizes a similar attempt to create a digital-centric library in Tucson, Arizona, which ultimately failed because patrons wanted the option for physical books, too.

Are we headed to a digital-only future?

Considering the high costs; the wear, tear, and accidental damage to checked-out devices; the number of potential thefts that could occur; and, of course, the ongoing challenges of getting ebooks into traditional libraries (let alone digital), it seems like Bexar County has a pretty challenging road ahead. But I’m sure they’re well aware of these challenges—and apparently ready to face them head-on.

That said, I do appreciate the idea behind this venture. As technology continues to evolve, it certainly is important to find ways to bridge the gap between the gadgets and the content. Additionally, a facility like this one can help provide learning tools and devices to students who might not be able to afford access to them otherwise.

But is the solution an all-digital source? I suppose we’ll just have to wait and see how (or if) it turns out.


This entry was posted on January 29, 2013 by in News, Technology and tagged , , , .

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