Paperless library launches age of digital lending in San Antonio

September 26th, 2013 | Posted by Kevin Corley in Document and Information Capture

A library that opened earlier this month in San Antonio, Texas, is hitting the headlines due to one important factor that distinguishes it from other entities of its kind – it does not house any actual books.

As the San Antonio Express-News reported, the Bexar County Digital Library – also known as BiblioTech – boasts a selection of 48 computers, 600 e-readers and a host of tablets and laptops. However, those looking to pick up a paperback or leaf through a glossy hardcover will find themselves out of luck.

The Christian Science Monitor explained that patrons can check out e-books and audiobooks via a Cloud Library application that authorizes them to access the library's catalog of titles and logs their account information, and they are also permitted to remove the e-reader devices themselves from the premises. For those who don't possess their own mobile devices and elect not to check out the e-readers on offer, the e-books can be read on Mac or PC desktop or laptop computers, the source noted.

According to the Express-News, the library is the first of its kind to launch without any type of physical book offerings. However, The Monitor pointed to a library in Arizona that elected to narrow its focus to solely digital offerings in 2002, but later broadened its horizons to once again include printed material.

"What's unusual about this one is that it is, from the beginning, going to be just digital," said Maureen Sullivan, immediate past president of the American Library Association, as quoted by the Express-News.

Cutting-edge e-services could benefit local community
"We know we're on the cutting edge," Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff, who conceived the idea of the digital library project, told the media outlet. "Somebody said the other day, 'There's 15,000 libraries. Are you sure you know what the hell you're doing, because none of them are doing it?' We believe we know what we're doing."

And if the initial signups are anything to go by, Wolff may be right. As of the day before the grand opening on September 14, nearly 2,000 county residents had applied for library privileges, the news source reported.

The library is located in a predominately Hispanic, low-income South Side neighborhood that is part of San Antonio's Harlandale Independent School District. According to the Express-News, three-quarters of the local population does not have access to the Internet, making the new resource a vitally important facet of the community.

"We know it will be a source for reading materials, information and technology like no other," Leslie Ann Garza, public information officer for the school district, told the media outlet.

To maximize the library's reach, members of staff have spoken with senior citizens and community groups to extol the benefits of e-books, explain how to register and give a preliminary introduction to e-reader devices and mobile apps.

E-book sector's infancy poses limitations
Although conversion services are making it easier and easier to convert physical books into electronic formats, there is still a long way to go before e-book selections become as vast as those of their printed equivalents.

"We're struggling, still, to get the Big Five publishers in New York to make available their books in e-form at a reasonable price," noted Sullivan.

However, BiblioTech project manager Laura Cole pointed out that the selections available at regular branch libraries also leave a lot to be desired, as spatial and financial constraints impose limitations.

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