By John Guy LaPlante
With 3 photos.
It’s like going to the moon. Unthinkable when I was a boy. But it happened! Now something else totally unthinkable to me has happened. A brand-new library has been
built but with zero printed books! It’s filled with digital books– only e-books! Can you believe it?
This isn’t a science-fiction fantasy. That e-library is a reality, here on this planet and now. with its doors open to the public as I write.
It’s in Texas, in San Antonio, which is in Bexar County. It was designed and built just for this radically new purpose, so it’s futuristic looking, of course. Take a good look at the photo I’ve included.
This amazing library is called the BiblioTech. That sounds strange, doesn’t it? A marriage of books and technology! But as I mull over the name, I see it is wonderfully appropriate.
Bibliotech opened September 14. It’s been getting enormous attention, and some brave souls are calling it the library of the future. Which to me suggests the demise of libraries as we know them. I’ll tell you why in a minute.
To get the Bibliotech ready, by the way, $178,966 worth of iPads, iMacs and MacBooks was purchased from Apple, Inc.. It will be like being in an Apple store, I would think. It seems the BiblioTech designers even gave it the look and feel of an Apple store. The Microsoft people must be weeping.
Of course, it’s common now for libraries all over the civilized world to have a digital area, or a digital room, with computers and printers and scanners and all the associated stuff. But who ever would have thought of a dedicated e-book library?
It’s not surprising that this first of its kind is located in Texas. Texans are known for their big hats, big boots, big ideas.
But now let’s look at BiblioTech’s details, which are fascinating. Here is what BiblioTech says about itself. I’ve put in italics.
BiblioTech is the first public digital library of its kind. Membership is
free to all Bexar County residents. Patron services include:
Access to BiblioTech’s digital collection including e-books, audiobooks.
Wireless internet access.
Laptop, desktop and tablet access.
E-readers (available for circulation).
Programs for children and adults.
Through BiblioTech, residents of Bexar County will be able to access over
10,000 current titles through e-readers that they can check out to take
home or read on the premises. Residents will also be able to use their
own e-readers or tablets to access the collection.
BiblioTech currently has 600 e-readers, 200 pre-loaded enhanced e-readers
for children, 48 computer stations, 10 laptops and 40 tablets to use on-site.
Additional e-reading accommodations will be made for the visually impaired.
To provide all Bexar County residents the opportunity to access technology and its applications for the purposes of enhancing education and literacy, promoting reading as recreation and equipping residents of our community with necessary tools to thrive as citizens of the 21st Century.
About Bexar County:
It includes the city of San Antonio), is located in South Texas and covers approximately 1,247 square miles. Based on the 2012 Census Estimate, the overall population is 1,714,773 individuals. The city of San Antonio is the 7th largest city in the United States having surpassed Dallas, Texas and San Diego, California. Bexar County is currently the 4th most populated county in Texas (out of 254 counties) and the 19th most populated county in the country.
Gosh, isn’t it all mind-boggling?
Who’s in charge. BiblioTech’s librarian is Susan Eklof. She’s beautiful. From her photo, looks like a 22-year-old geek right out of an Apple store. Nothing like the unfair stereotype that we’re all familiar with–the classic old-maid librarian with books in one hand and a feather duster in the other hand. Anything but.
Actually, Ms. Eklof was trained at the University of Wisconsin/Milwaukee. In computer science and library science, I presume. Later she worked in a public school system up there, at that kind of work, I would think. Well, she is walking into history as a true pioneer. For sure she will be famous in the annals of library science–or information technology–as some in the field now call it.
The County Manager is David Smith. He said, “One of her passions is increasing access to technology and information,” So no surprise she was chosen.
Said another high official to her. “You’re about to embark on an adventure that’s not been done anywhere in the United States, probably anywhere in the world. You’ve got a good team. We’re going to build something for the kids of the South Side of San Antonio that will enhance their learning like no other place in the country.”
Truth is, I kind of saw this coming. But never, never in my lifetime did I expect to see an e-library like the BiblioTech. But a year or so ago I read something startling. As you know, Amazon.com, among other things, is our biggest retailer of books. Bigger than Barnes & Noble even. But last year it sold more e-books than print books! Wow! And at that time, a report by the Pew Foundation said that 19 percent of adults in the U.S. had read an e-book. I was amazed the percentage was so high. And the trend showed no signs of slowing.
What does this portend? Not good news. Certainly not from my point of view as a library lover. It portends that public libraries as I know them and you do, too, are imperiled. Doomed. Will disappear. I say this although I’m aware public libraries have more users than ever, which is encouraging. But this is only because libraries are morphing into something far more than the our narrowly focused libraries of even ten or fifteen years ago.
People go to public libraries take out books, of course, and read newspapers and magazines, but also take out movies and music disks, listen to talks, take the numerous mini courses more and more libraries now offer, and relax in the coffee shops some libraries now run, and be among people–it’s surprising how many folks live alone, particularly older ones.
And to use free computers! That’s Number 1 for most users. In fact, I believe that this is the most popular service provided by any public library in the United States today.
I have often said that I consider the public library the most important institution in any community–second only to the food supermarket, of course. Nearly everything I need to know about any city or town I can find out just by taking a ride up and down its main street and then checking out its library. That will tell me plenty.
I myself have a stake in this new e-technology. How so? Well, my three books were published as printed books but they have also been published as e-books–this is so essential nowadays.
For years I wrote articles and columns and essays and PR releases for newspapers–print newspapers, that is. Now what I write appears in e-newspapers mostly. In fact, you will be reading this initially in my blog. Later in an e-paper or two. And this all because of the great advances of computer science–a science which never existed back in my school days.
Computers are an essential part of my life. I own three. Plus all the peripherals. I use them daily for work and research and entertainment. It’s a real emergency for me when wi-fi fails or some other weird thing happens. Also digital camera and cell phone. And I own two e-book readers, a Kindle and an iRiver Story HD–it accesses many things my Kindle doesn’t. I’ve downloaded books onto them. But know what? I hardly use my e-readers. I’m just too old-fashioned, I guess. And I’m experimenting with a tablet. So some would say I’m quite computer savvy though I often feel I’m a klutz.
Still. and I know I’m repeating, I am totally amazed that a library like the BiblioTech can exist. But if I were 20 or 30 years old and lived in Bexar County, for sure I would be a regular at the BiblioTech. Certainly many more like it will appear. City after city will jump on the bandwagon.
The BiblioTech people call their e-library progress, of course, and deep in my heart I believe that it is. I wish it well. Progress is a steamroller and there is no stopping it. But I’m not ready for this particular variety of it.
As you know I have had a passion for books since I was a boy. I’ve had a public library card since I was ten or eleven, I believe. I got it back in Pawtucket, Rhode Island.
My Maman walked me right up the granite steps and through the bronze doors of the Slater Public Library and got me signed up. That was very soon after she had taken me to the Pawtucket Boys Club to get me started in swimming lessons.
Yes, my mother, a young French-speaking immigrant from Québec who never got to learn to speak English well because she spent all day at home taking care of my Papa and us! But she, too, loved to read, not only in French but in English, and got so good at reading in English English and did so well that she subscribed us to the Saturday Evening Post and the Reader’s Digest. When they arrived, she’d stop everything, curl up in her favorite chair, and escape into them for half an hour.
I inherited my love of books from her. I have books in every room. Plus two sets of encyclopedias. Plus a variety of reference books. Much of their content is now easily accessed by computer, of course. But it’s a comfort to feel them around me. And I own them. Not true of e-books. And e-books do zero for the ambiance I like. I feel about books the way some feel about paintings (I do own paintings as well). I owe so much to all the authors who have entered and enhanced my life through their books.
My Papa had the same background as Maman but he learned to speak English on the streets and through serious practice and in time became a successful businessman. Even moved us into a nice colonial-style home with an in-ground pool, quite unusual back then. But we always spoke French at home, right to their final breath.
Well, I have never been without a library card ever since Maman got me that first one. And I hope I never will be. It’s a rare night that I go to sleep without a book in my hands. Often a library book. That card is one of the most precious things I own. For symbolic reasons, too. That in itself is remarkable. Wonder of wonders, that library card will be honored at any public library in the state! No questions asked. That in itself is remarkable.
It doesn’t seem likely that I will ever become a card-carrying member of a BiblioTech-like library. But who knows? Right now I have only one more comment to make. If you have read all this, you, too, are definitely a reader! How lucky you are! Whether you are reading printed books or e-books or both.Reading is the key to so much.
So, how do you feel about this amazing development of the BiblioTech? I’d be pleased to get your comments.
Oops, a new thought. Will users of the BiblioTech be allowed to bring in pads and pencils and pens and printed books? Probably not. Who needs that old-fashioned stuff? Well, I do.