Annoyed Librarian
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Inside Annoyed Librarian

The Latest Passing Fad

A Kind Reader sent this article about a “bookless library” being built in Texas, the BiblioTech. Etymologically, a “bookless library” is an oxymoron, but maybe they don’t take that sort of thing seriously down in Texas.

Nevertheless, the guy responsible for it is very excited. When explaining the concept, he says, “”Think of an Apple store.” Good grief.

There have been many models that libraries have tried to emulate, bookstores being the most obvious. Back in the last millennium we were told to make libraries more like the big chain bookstores, so they would be popular and all. Wouldn’t it be great if libraries could have the popularity and staying power of Border’s Books, some librarian probably asked.

And now, the Apple store: soulless, shiny, and designed for cult worship. Some of you might be in the cult and now feel offended, so take a look at this description of the training manual for the so-called Apple “geniuses.” They’re training the “geniuses” to do all the things cult leaders do to recruit people. After you’ve been deprogrammed you’ll see what I mean.

Still offended? An AL post is like a good library. It has something to offend everyone.

Soulless and shiny. Is that really the best model for libraries?

Normally I would start pointing out all the problems of this so-called bookless library, but fortunately I don’t have to. Instead of getting the typical media hype, we instead get some really good critical and investigative journalism.

Seriously, read through that article, from the question in the title (a new chapter?) to the history of bookless libraries to the examples chosen to support an “evolving digital backdrop.” That article was written by someone who actually knows something about books and libraries or bothered to find out. No shushing stereotypes there.

It helped that the reporter interviewed a librarian who’s gone on record pointing out the various ways ebooks are a bad idea for public libraries given the way they are currently marketed and licensed, someone who hasn’t joined the cult proclaiming we have to go all digital no matter the costs or problems.

She points out that some people want regular books on paper. In fact, a lot of people do, maybe even the majority of people. But trying to silence the spread of that obvious truth is the new shushing stereotype of some librarians.

“And the biggest issue? Most content is simply not available digitally to license and purchase.” Yep, that’s a pretty big issue, and it’s an issue that’s not going to go away. The visionary dreamers look at the technical possibilities, which indeed are amazing, but don’t look at the legal possibilities.

Yet the reporter found good examples of bookless libraries, the engineering libraries at the University of Texas-San Antonio and Stanford University. Practically speaking, lots of engineering libraries don’t use or need paper books. It’s a field in which almost everything is available online and in packages that don’t come with the hassles of dealing with Overdrive and the big commercial publishers.

An engineering librarian comments: “”It’s available on our network 24/7, so students can download them locally on their computer, phone, wherever, whenever…. Continuing to make the library info space relevant as the technology improves is definitely where we’re moving.”

That’s supposedly the mantra of the guy down in Texas building this new bookless public library. It’s a great mantra.

The obvious problem is that the publishers and patrons of engineering books and journals are completely different from the publishers and patrons of public libraries. Those engineering libraries aren’t being revolutionary or pushing the envelope. They’re just adjusting to the reality of communication in engineering.

If anyone bothers to follow up on the story, a few years after the BiblioTech opens we’ll find out that while the computers were great and all, some of the public wanted to read stuff the library couldn’t get online but which was inexpensively available in print. Some of the computers will be removed to make way for book stacks and magazine racks. That would be such a novelty it would be worth reporting on.



  1. bland_man says:

    So academic libraries can create effective digital environments, but when public libraries give it a shot they should be ridiculed? AL I adore you, but I just do not see eye to eye with you on this one. Of course as an industry we need to figure out how to provide electronic content better, however creating a digital space indicates that this is a clear goal and I support it. That is not to say that traditional libraries are not a critical part of the library environment, a good mix is required. This space works beautifully. It is the best info commons IMHO, and has received too little press. 37-38 million dollar freestanding building with passive energy management designed by Transsolar. Incredible.

    • Annoyed Librarian says:

      I didn’t discuss academic libraries in general, but Engineering libraries in particular, which can pretty much develop a comprehensive collection for their needs without print books. No public library or large academic library can do that at the moment.

    • ”It’s available on our network 24/7, so students can download them locally on their computer, phone, wherever, whenever”

      Are students really accessing and using databases on their phones? Doing research on a 4.5 inch screen sounds like a nightmare.

      As far as this post bland_man I don’t see where AL is saying public libraries can’t or shouldn’t have effective digital environments. Believe me I would love to find the best way to get patrons to use all the digital content we pay so much money for. That being said a “bookless” library isn’t a feasible idea for a public library at this point. People would stop coming and would stop supporting it.

      For every techno-geek there is still a person who just wants paper books and a quiet space to read. Creating a bookless public library is spiting one group to support the other.

  2. Stephen Michael Kellat says:

    This proposed structure isn’t a library but a computer lab or maybe a community lounge perhaps.

  3. It’s the dedication to Macs that is a bit unnerving to me. I’m OK with a bookless library–the first libraries didn’t have books either–but why would you buy consumer-oriented iMacs for a library system when there are other alternatives available?

  4. This was tried in San Antonio about 10 years ago when UTSA opened up a downtown branch. Within six months they had reference books on the shelves.

  5. I Like Books says:

    I’ve been through the physics process. I’ve also done research in history, biology, and other fields as the fancy strikes me. I totally agree that online journal collections are great! But I don’t see how access to academic journals, one article at a time, is comparable to the print collection of a public library. I’d print out even a substantial article, or one that I want easy access to without having to boot up my computer (am I weird for not having my computer running 24 hours per day?). There’s no way I want to read a 600 page book on my screen.

  6. Mac store shiny and soulless? How about popular, busy, friendly informed staff, good problem solvers, efficient, and making people interested in communication and technology. Librarians, who mostly hide in their offices, should be learning to develop all of these aspects. I wish I worked in a Mac store instead of a library. My days would be less dull and would actually involve communicating and learning. I’m not arguing that libraries should look like a Mac store, but there are lessons to be learned about effective communication and community spaces that are too easily brushed aside.

    • Then please by all means go work in a Mac store. There are plenty of librarians that I’m sure would like your job. I’l give you the popular and busy part but it stops there. The staff at Mac stores are no more friendly than any other popular retail outlet.

      They aren’t making anyone interested in communication and technology. They are simply taking advantage of the cult following of a brand that releases “upgraded” versions of the same devices every year (considering they are announcing the next iPad mini and iPad in March I guess it’ll be a six month release cycle now). You’re forgetting that their bottom line is to make money.

      If you’re mostly hiding in your office than that’s your own fault. In my 8-hour day I’ll spend 1-2 hours maximum in my office. The rest of the time is spent on the ref desk, teaching, in meetings, doing programs, etc.

  7. It’s astounding to me how librarians can constantly bemoan how we’re unappreciated, how the library is no longer used or used effectively, and yet any suggestion that would require us to honestly reflect or possibly change what we are doing is met with a surprising and inappropriate amount of hostility. If we’re ever to move forward we will need critical thinking and flexibility. Good for you “me” that you work hard. Doing what we have always done isn’t working anymore. We need to be smarter and more creative. Don’t want to look at Mac stores, okay, suggest another model. But please don’t pretend that the unending whining in our field is a solution, or that throwing red herrings ( of course a businesses intent is to make money, but they generate excitement in a way that we do not, and we’re FREE. That’s the point) is an effective response.

    • And if Mac employees are so unpleasant, why are they still more popular and approachable than a librarian

    • I never said Mac employees were unpleasant but thanks for putting words in my mouth. I said they are no more friendly than any other popular retail outlet. Quite a mental leap you took there.

      Don’t pretend like your original post had anything to do with suggesting a new model for library services. You just sang the praises of Mac stores and bemoaned your crummy, dull life as a librarian. Then when I called you out you tried to turn your point into something new. Saying that Mac employee’s are more approachable than librarians would have to be taken on a case by case basis. I find myself very approachable and have great communication with my patrons.

    • Actually in my original post I said that there may be lessons to be learned from a place like a mac store because they manage to do things well that we do not. And that is really the crux of this. You can be defensive or attack my ” crummy, dull life”, which is underhanded, but you’re kind of making my point, or a supporting point I wish that libraries could generate excitement and be known as a hub of information sharing. So how do we do that? Again, “me”, good for you that you are doing a good job but we need to stop being defensive, and start being creative and cooperative. By all means disagree with the idea that mac stores have even an eensy amount of innovation that we can learn from, but I would rather we have a discussion than trade in hostile personal remarks.

    • I’m not attacking you. This is what you said: “I wish I worked in a Mac store instead of a library. My days would be less dull and would actually involve communicating and learning.”

      I re-read your original post.You never made any mentions of lessons to be learned from a Mac store. You just told us how fantastic it is not how/why/if/in what way a library should change to emulate them. I do think libraries need to make changes but I don’t think emulating a retail outlet is the way to go. We are not in the business of making money we ARE in the business of supporting our patrons and community. This requires a different approach than the superficiality of a retail outlet whose only reason to be nice to you is to make sure you walk out of the store having spent money.

  8. Librarian in Texas says:

    It is going in an underserved area, with 250 electronic devices. Are the ereaders, laptops and tablets going to circulate out of the building? What is their replacement policy for theft and damage? What is their target population? How many hours a day are they going to be open? We can’t get people to return cheap paperback books and $20 DVDs, they think people are going to return an ereader? Our library is in one of the most affluent are of our city. Get real. How many of their patrons do they expect to own their own tablets and ereaders? A little market research should be done using the 1.5 milllion budget.


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