Next summer Bexar County (Texas) will open a library in a housing project on the West side of San Antonio. There will be iMacs, iPads, laptops and hundreds of e-readers, but no physical books.
This is the second library to be exclusively digital in San Antonio. Visitors can check out an e-reader for two weeks and pick from a selection of 25,000 books, or surf the Web on one of the library’s computers. The first branch — what Bexar County is calling a BiblioTech— opened in September 2013 and had more than 103,000 visitors in the first 12 months it was opened. Nearly 68,000 e-books were checked out during that period.
“We never have any complaints about ‘why don’t you have any printed books,’” said Bexar County judge Nelson Wolff. There are plans to open a third digital-only library in 2016. The county courthouse currently features a simplified version of a BiblioTech, a counter where someone with jury duty could check out an e-reader to pass the time.
According to Wolff, Bexar County will rent a building in a low-income housing project for $1 a year from the San Antonio Housing Authority. Wolff wants to open the digital-only libraries in poorer areas to expose low-income residents to technologies that they might otherwise not have access to.
“There’s no doubt in my mind if you don’t understand digital worlds, whether it’s social media or understanding the Internet or whether it’s actually knowing how to use technology, you’re way behind the curve,” Wolff said. While many Americans practically live online, almost 20 percent of U.S. adults don’t use the Internet.
The entire project is estimated to cost $500,000. The first BiblioTech cost $2.4 million, as the 5,000 square foot space needed extensive renovations.
While his focus is on digital libraries, he’s not ready to give up physical books himself.
“I think there will always be some role for printed books in libraries,” said Wolff, a self-described bibliophile a collection of 1,600 first editions.