29 Jan 2013

BiblioTech – a public library without books

There are interesting developments to report from the digital libraries frontier. The first digital-only public library, BiblioTech, will pilot in Bexar County this coming autumn.

The library is designed for the digital age and will offer about 10,000 e-books to start with. Access is also provided to desktop, laptop and tablet computers as well as study spaces, meeting rooms and a designated interactive children’s area. Patrons can either borrow e-readers or bring their own (see press release for further details).

No details have been released as to which e-book distribution service will be recruited, but 3M Cloud Library could well be a viable contender for the provision of the necessary technical infrastructure.

The driver of this initiative, Judge Nelson W. Wolf, regards the bookless library not as an exclusive alternative, but rather as an experimental add-on to the traditional public library service. A comparative example within the academic library context would be Drexel’s Library Learning Terrace (a decentralised library in the shape of a bookless and flexible learning space that includes computers providing access to the school’s digital library resources near where graduates live and eat on campus; see Howard, 2011 for more detail).

But pushing a bookless library service onto the stratified citizen, rather than then the tech-savvy student, is a more complex story altogether. For example, challenges revolve around the creation of an easily accessible technical environment that will make interaction (retrieval and borrowing etc.) with electronic books a straight forward and intuitive experience for all public users. Another issue is that of digital rights management as the business model shifts from content ownership to content licensing, i.e. e-books are not always owned when purchased by libraries.

Another challenge is the potential for limited discovery of e-book content as libraries want a single, easy-to-use, easy-to-search platform: many platforms offer restricted interoperability (see for example Overdrive, 3M, ProQuest, EBSCO). Considered should also be the limitations for interlibrary loan opportunities due to potential operational limitations set by e-book vendors.

Regardless, it will be interesting to see how the BiblioTech experiment pans out once it goes live.

Sendze M. The E-Book Experiment. Public Libraries [serial online]. January 2012;51(1):34-37. Available from: Library, Information Science & Technology Abstracts with Full Text, Ipswich, MA. Accessed January 23, 2013.
See also Charles Hamaker ‘Ebooks on Fire: Controversies Surrounding Ebooks in Libraries


Post a Comment