Libraries, like bookstores and and publishers, are confronting the e-book world and they are reacting in various ways. Some of those ways are really stupid.
Texas has seen the future of the public library, and it looks a lot like an Apple Store: Rows of glossy iMacs beckon. iPads mounted on a tangerine-colored bar invite readers. And hundreds of other tablets stand ready for checkout to anyone with a borrowing card.
Even the librarians imitate Apple’s dress code, wearing matching shirts and that standard-bearer of geek-chic, the hoodie. But this $2.3 million library might be most notable for what it does not have — any actual books.
That makes Bexar County’s BibiloTech the nation’s only bookless public library, a distinction that has attracted scores of digital bookworms, plus emissaries from as far away as Hong Kong who want to learn about the idea and possibly take it home.
“I told our people that you need to take a look at this. This is the future,” said Mary Graham, vice president of South Carolina’s Charleston Metro Chamber of Commerce. “If you’re going to be building new library facilities, this is what you need to be doing.”
What’s the point of building a library facility that consists of terminals and mobile devices that you can’t take home? Aside from making everyone feel like they’re living in the future, all it does is throw away a lot of money on nothing.
There’s already something called a bookless library. It’s called the internet.
A digital library doesn’t require physical space. All it needs is server space. And digital rights management.
There is no possible reason to have a bookless library. It accomplishes nothing. If the goal is to give researchers access to material, instead of microfilm, then they can set up accounts and access them remotely.
If the goal is to give people access to books they can take home, that can be done through lending features and no library can stock enough tablets to lend to everyone.
The usual justification involves giving low income minorities access to the internet. But that’s already being done and doesn’t have to involve sidelining the books.
All it really does is make everyone feel futuristic. But there’s a real cost. Not just in money.
Libraries are meant to concentrate on books. The bookless digital efforts has seen libraries sell off or eliminate their physical book collections in order to buy more laptops and tablets.
In the New York Public Library, rare books have been sold off and rare physical books have been made harder to access for researchers in a library system that cares about nothing except the ‘future’.
The library system works badly, but its concentration on futuristic gimmicks makes the reputations of whoever is running the show.