America's first bookless public library appears to be a success

BiblioTech, located in San Antonio, is on track to surpass 100,000 visitors in its first year, with fans coming from as far away as Hong Kong to see it.

Eric Gay/AP
Caroline Ramirez (l.) and Sam Martinez, use computers at BiblioTech.

It’s been likened to a kitchen without food, a bank without currency notes, and a bakery without bread.

And yet, the nation’s first bookless library so far appears to be a success.

BiblioTech, the nation’s first – and only – bookless public library recently opened in San Antonio.

Stocked with 20,000 e-books, 600 e-readers for adults and 200 for children, 48 computers, and 10 laptops and 40 tablets, the $2.3 million library has been compared countless times to an Apple Store with its rows of glossy devices.

[Editor's note: The original version of this story misstated the amount of devices and books available.]

Patrons can peruse online catalogs on Apple touch screen computers and check out books on e-readers.

“Even the librarians imitate Apple’s dress code, wearing matching shirts and that standard bearer of geek-chic, the hoodie,” writes the Associated Press.

Considering its likeness to an Apple store, perhaps then it’s not hard to understand BiblioTech’s success. The library is already on pace to surpass 100,000 visitors in its first year, with library enthusiasts from as far as Hong Kong coming to view the library – potentially for similar projects in states and countries across the globe.

“I told our people that you need to take a look at this. This is the future," Mary Graham, vice president of South Carolina's Charleston Metro Chamber of Commerce, told the AP. "If you're going to be building new library facilities, this is what you need to be doing.”

Notably, BiblioTech is located in a low-income neighborhood in which many residents don’t have Wi-Fi. As such, access to reading material, electronic devices, and Internet, is a boon to the local community in Bexar County, Texas, where BiblioTech is located.

Though college campuses have been operating all-digital libraries for years, BiblioTech is the nation’s first public library that is bookless. (A similar idea was floated and quashed in California and an all-digital library actually opened in Arizona prior to BiblioTech but eventually began carrying books when residents protested.)

Though we hardly believe the bookless library will replace traditional ones, we wouldn’t be surprised to see more all-digital libraries – which attract younger patrons with their rows of glossy devices and sleek design – pop up in counties across the country.

Husna Haq is a Monitor correspondent.

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