The paperless public library is preparing to rear it’s paperless head again according to this BBC article. The comparison to the paperless office is amusing because I don’t think many offices have managed to accomplish that feat.
The soon to be paperless library will be in Bexar County, TX, which apparently has never had a library before. Since San Antonio is in Bexar County, and San Antonio definitely has public libraries, I’m assuming this means a county library system everyone could access regardless of whether they live in San Antonio proper.
Nevertheless, the library’s “first branch will be in a relatively poor district on the city of San Antonio’s South Side.”
It will have 100 e-readers on loan, and dozens of screens where the public will be able to browse, study, and learn digital skills. However it’s likely most users will access BiblioTech’s initial holding of 10,000 digital titles from the comfort of their homes, way out in the Texas hinterland.
As of the 2010 Census, San Antonio had 1,327,407 residents and Bexar County 1,714,773, so it seems there are about 400,000 people without any kind of library service. I guess they’re right that everything’s bigger in Texas, including populations without access to public libraries.
It also seems those 400,000 or so Texans aren’t particularly well off, since the median household income in the county is $38,328 and 15.9% of the population is below the poverty line.
How likely is it that all those people out in the Texas hinterland are going to have computers or Internet connections? And of those, how many have either tablet computers, smartphones, or dedicated ebook readers, without which ebook reading is a much less enjoyable experience?
100 ebook readers for lending doesn’t seem like a lot for that many people, unless we assume that there won’t be a lot of readers. I don’t think of rural Texas as particularly literary, but there must be considerably more than 100 people who like to read a lot.
The dozens of computers could be useful for people in need, but if they wanted to drive somewhere to read books sitting in a public library, couldn’t they go to one of the 24 existing branches of the San Antonio Public Library and sit there to read? Libraries ration their computer use out of necessity sometimes, but they usually don’t stop inoffensive people from sitting around reading their printed books.
I’m all for rural access to public libraries, but this move seems more idealistic than workable. It’s partly inspired by the “success of the University of Texas San Antonio (UTSA) bookless engineering school library which opened three years ago.” It’s hard to think of a less apt comparison to a rural public library than a university engineering school library.
Given the cost of ebooks, it might have been cheaper to purchase 10,000 paperbacks and build a little library in the middle of the least served area. That would probably promote greater access to reading than a technologically state of the art library for a most likely less than technologically state of the art population.