On Saturday, Bexar County Digital Library – a $2.4 million, 4,000-square-foot space, also known as BiblioTech and located on the south side of San Antonio – opens to the public. The library, built with $1.9 million in county tax money and $500,000 in private donations, looks like an orange-hued Apple store and is stocked with 10,000 e-books, 500 e-readers, 48 computers, and 20 iPads and laptops. It has a children’s area, study rooms and a Starbucks-esque café. Most importantly, it will have no printed material.
This isn’t the first time a public library has attempted to go bookless. In 2002, the Tucson-Pima Public Library system in Arizona opened a branch without books. But after just a few years, the library phased in printed materials. Its patrons demanded them.
“I don’t think people could really envision a library without any books in it,” says Susan Husband, the Santa Rosa Branch Library’s manager.
The idea of the bookless library no longer seems so daring considering our drift away from print and toward all things digital. At the end of 2012, 23% of Americans age 16 and older read e-books, up from 16% the year before, while the proportion of Americans who read a printed book fell from 72% to 67%, according to the Pew Research Center. But an all-digital library also raises a very basic question: is a library without books really a library?