As ebooks rise in popularity, what becomes of the humble library? One option is to embrace the new technology and go digital. Would you use a bookless library to find your next ebook?
Have you heard of the bookless library? No, it’s not a joke but a genuine ‘thing’ in America. A library in Texas is opening up to serve the public’s digital literary needs and it’ll be entirely bookless.
Well, technically it’ll be paperless – hosting a large collection of digital books instead. The library will be home to 10,000 ebook titles, 100 ebook readers and a whole host of computers for members of the public to use.
Now despite running the ebook reader test here at Which?, I’m still a fan of the traditional paper book. There’s something about the smell and feel of real texts. And what about the thrill of stalking along the book shelves, examining the spines in neat alphabetical order, waiting for the right one to jump out at you. I’d certainly miss that in a bookless library.
Bringing computers to the masses
But I’m not against digital libraries either. They have their place. This particular example in the US has been designed as a social project – giving those who might not yet be online access to computers and the latest technology. It’ll be a place for people to go to learn how to use and take advantage of the internet (yes, there are still some people out there who aren’t online but would like to be!).
And holding a digital collection will clear the shelves, giving more room for computers. This is a real benefit; computers were rare and hard to come by in my uni library. Many a time I hovered round the library computers waiting for someone to leave, so that I could pounce on their space. By banishing the stacks, bookless libraries are creating room for more modern (and arguably more useful) computer resources.
Finding the best book balance
The notion of hosting a digital collection that you can access from anywhere is also a great idea. It’ll provide people living in rural locations access to thousands of books. That’s a great benefit for those who might not easily be able to make the trek to the nearest physical library.
But for me I’d still like to see some real books on the shelves too. I think a mixture is the best solution – it may sound like sitting on the fence, but it’s the best way to please both camps.
So perhaps it’s not so much a bookless or paperless library that we’re after. The ideal is perhaps as @marketurner suggests:
@whichtechfeels like it could be *mainly* <a href=”https://twitter.com/search/%23bookless”>#bookless</a> tho same way pen/paper exists today, books still have partial physical future for loan
— Mark Edward Turner (@marketurner) May 29, 2013
Would you find a bookless library useful? Or would you prefer libraries to cater for both digital and traditional books?