A Library Without Books? Welcome to the Future

I love books. The smell, the feel, the weight. I love cracking open a brand new book and savoring the feeling of being the first to gaze on its pages. I also love adopting a used book and imagining the other hands that held it before me, the other minds that were entertained or trained by its contents. But some say that this tactile experience is an outdated one, and are marching full force into the digital age in which books as we know it will cease to exist.

If books are sacred, than libraries are like church. Something about the quiet, the powerful presence of all that untapped knowledge has always made me feel reverent. Ever since the first public library opened in America’s early days of existence, their design has been fairly uniform: stacks and stacks of books, organized on shelves, with places to read them and a system for borrowing them.

A new effort in Texas seeks to build America’s first bookless library, something that’s hard for my mind to comprehend. Proposed by Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff, a self-declared book lover and collector, the prototype BiblioTech will be the first library to be completely devoid of paper.

“We are trailblazing,” said Judge Wolff, who proposed the concept citing a need for suburban library services. Proponents say the new system, costing $1.5 million to start, will enable users to access an initial 10,000 titles from anywhere. The prototype site at 3505 Pleasanton Road, a county satellite office serving the South Side, will have computers, take-home e-readers, study areas and meeting rooms.

Wolff says that he was inspired to pioneer this project after reading the authorized biography of the late Apple co-founder Steve Jobs. Both feel that future generations will see little utility in printed books, other than as antiques, and that it’s time to for libraries to embrace the digital age. Such a feat may not have been conceivable just a few years ago, but with the proliferation of tablets and e-readers, such a digital exchange system is possible, and already demonstrated by small e-lending services at libraries around the nation.

Less paper, more access, fewer physical objects to be abused, stolen, or lost: it’s hard to criticize this idea. My only hesitation comes from the potential impact on the environment. I know, there are no trees involved in the publication of a digital book. However, there’s still a lot of energy consumption, earth-harming extraction of precious metals and the potential production of massive amounts of e-waste.

As I recently wrote for EarthTechling, constant access to the internet and digital media consumes a huge amount of energy, most of which is gobbled up by massive data centers where these resources “live.” The production of all those computers, e-readers and tablets requires intensive mining of rare earth elements, and although it’s the fastest growing waste stream in the world, e-waste recycling rates remain dismal. There’s also the complicated issue of access. Yes, all digital titles may seem like a genius idea to those of us lucky enough to own the gadgets required to view them. Unfortunately, there are still many who don’t enjoy this luxury, or even internet access at their homes through which they could be accessed on a desktop.

Thankfully, the Bexar County bookless library will still exist in the real world. There will be a physical location in which people can read, relax and utilize technology they might not otherwise access at home. “We know they have less access to technology and less economic buying power than other regions of the city,” Wolff said. “Now we’ll be providing them a service that anybody else that has money would have,” he said. In addition to the media itself, the necessary e-readers will be lent out to the public. Residents will be able to check out one of 100 e-readers available for home use, enabling low-income families to become proficient in devices that will be common, and perhaps required, in the coming decades.

Sharing of the technology as well as the books makes good sense for the residents, the library and the environment as well. It smacks of collaborative consumption and is a great example of the new ways the sharing economy will change the world. I’ll be watching the developments of this library with great interest. It’s the future, after all.

Related Reading:

Literacy Libraries Change Lives In Africa

Is A Library Without The Books Still A Library?

Library Usage Up As Cities Slash Budgets

Image via Thinkstock


Hello G.
Hello G4 years ago


Kathy Perez
Kathy Johnson4 years ago

I love books. I love reading them. i love owning them. I love the smell and the feel of them and the look of them neatly on the shelf or in a stack on the nightstand. No matter what libraries choose to do, i still have my own library :)

Camilla T.
Camilla T4 years ago

Though I love to read ebooks too, I'd be devastated if printed books vanished. If I had to choose, I'd always pick printed books. Fortunately, I don't have to. I can have both.

Anne F.
Anne Foss5 years ago

I agree Christine, I love books and all it takes is a long power outage and where would w be. Cuddling up with a book is great and what about reference books with beautiful pictures. Somehow, an e-reader seems cold in comparison.
Even my grandchildren really like books.

Christine Jones
Christine J5 years ago

I hope the day never comes. A library without books is not a real library, it's just a room with computer terminals. I feel really sorry for anyone who hasn't had the joy of holding an old book in their hands, smelling the cover, leafing through the pages, reading the inscription, finding an airline ticket or a recipe card used as a bookmark, and wondering about who read it before and what was their life like. Then curling up in bed with it. Electronics can never compete with this. Real books don't need expensive gadgetry which constantly needs electricity and is always being replaced with the latest version. To read a real book, all you need is your eyes and light. Electronic contents can be wiped by hardline governments; real books can be hidden and cherished in secret. Long live the real book and the real library.

Connie T.
Past Member 5 years ago

Personally I'd miss the librarian whispering ssshhhh!

Russell R.
Russell R5 years ago

We need a hard copy! Without that, we stand to lose everything! Then there is the fact that technology keeps changing

greenplanet e.
greenplanet e5 years ago

I like second-hand books :)

pam w.
pam w5 years ago

Ever consider how easy it would be to "ban" an electronic book?

I think about that, sometimes.

Suppose right-wing fundamentalists somehow get power in this nation.

How quickly could they eliminate all traces of electronic books they don't like?

Gysele van Santen

i'd prefer an "old school" library.