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SURVEY: Is a Library Without Print Books a Library at All?

By Edward Nawotka, Editor-in-Chief

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In The New York Times Ashley Eklof, head librarian at BiblioTech — the all-digital e-book library in San Antonio, Texas faced down the charge that a library without books is not a library at all. “We have maintained from the beginning that we are a digital library, not a bookless library,” she said, adding that the role of a library is to serve the community with access to information and research assistance. In that regard BiblioTech checks all the boxes.

In addition a 2012 Pew Research Study (see infographic below) found that Americans are prioritizing closer cooperation with local schools and free literacy programs for young people, both things BiblioTech also prioritizes.

So, is there any reason to doubt Ms. Eklof? And is BiblioTech a model that might be replicated more and more in communities where need is greatest and money is tight? If so, will anything be lost by promoting libraries without print books?

Let us know what you think in the comments. 


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  1. Sandy Thatcher
    Posted January 22, 2014 at 9:42 am | Permalink

    Now I’m not sure a zoo with no live but only virtual animals could still be called a zoo, but I’m willing to consider a library with only ebooks a library. What’s important is the function a library performs, providing free reading for the public, not the format in which that content is delivered. After all, don’t we consider the library at Alexandria a library even though it didn’t have books in the form they became after Gutenberg?

  2. JSB
    Posted January 22, 2014 at 1:35 pm | Permalink

    The time has come for readers to quit with the pretentiousness. The purpose of a written work is for it to be read. If e-readers make novels more accessible and affordable for the public, we ought to encourage that. Anything that encourages people to read is a victory. If a library can acquire a larger collection and reach a wider audience through the transmission of e-books, that is positive.

    The only caution would be to make sure we never eliminate the bricks-and-mortar library. A library is more than a collection of books. It is a community hub, where the elderly can receive assistance and training with technology; where students can receive assistance with research and finding material; where book clubs and writing groups can meet; where district residents can go to access information and technology; and they are a public location where classes, seminars, lectures and programs can be conducted.

    • Manuel
      Posted July 15, 2014 at 6:06 pm | Permalink

      If we should allow the disappearance of the written word on paper, contained on acid free paper and a dust jacket that could be made of leather, a thing that you hold in your hands and make notes on the side of the margins, highlighting the important, and often; favorite passages. Then the future could, and in my opinion; include the disappearance of the way we enjoy our simple meals; gathered around a table with instruments, forks and knives, they will be unnecessary because food will be replaced with all the nutrients enclosed in a pill. Oh please don’t let it be. A library without books to hold in my hand, an abomination.

  3. Melissa Techman
    Posted January 25, 2014 at 10:40 pm | Permalink

    Yes, given the current unkind state of affairs (cost, DRM) with regard to ebooks in libraries, it probably is a digital library – just as the database and ebook (Overdrive, mostly) access in full-service libraries is a sort of digital subset of a library. But the idea of access to such a limited range of titles, compared to print titles seems wrong to me when I think about the full-access life of wealthier people with credit cards and Amazon accounts. The judge who supported this initiative has a home library of print copies of books the Bexar County residents can’t access. The backdrop – previously no library of any kind – propels us to think that anything is better than nothing. If I lived there, I’d want access to the same kind of large, comfortable full-access library branches that San Antonio has – AND this digital branch, but I’d see the digital branch for what it is. It is not a substitute for a library and won’t be until many more titles are in ebook format and publishers work out more generous deals with libraries. Even then, in spite of the gee whiz nature of most of this coverage, I see the world trending toward many formats, including paper.

  4. Posted January 27, 2014 at 11:58 am | Permalink

    Libraries should have:
    1. Deadtree books (regular printed books)
    2. E-books
    3. Lend out kindle devices so clients can check out e-books.
    – Mike Peralta (Author) hell3.weebly.com

  5. chris phillips
    Posted February 1, 2014 at 12:16 pm | Permalink

    i love the public library! my favorite place to go.i am a constant reader of both fiction/nonfiction! I think e-books should be available for patrons that choose to use them.I would not want hardcover/softcover to disappear!.Knowledge should always be free. thanks C.P.

  6. Byard Pidgeon
    Posted March 2, 2014 at 10:11 pm | Permalink

    My primary concerns about bookless or near-bookless libraries are that the transition to ebooks will follow the same trajectory as the transition from vinyl recordings to CDs (many important, but less popular, recordings don’t get put into the new format at all, or not for many years), and that, as in many libraries already, the function of a library as a repository for knowledge (references in arts as well as humanities) will be superceded by the library as a reflection of the current culture, in which important, timeless works are discarded because they don’t get checked out or accessed “enough”.

  7. Posted July 3, 2014 at 1:33 am | Permalink

    Wow! Lovely infographics! I work as an editor in a renowned company. One of the tasks in the ‘to do list’ is to create polls. I use SoGoSurvey for creating polls. The poll results are accurate and it offers many sample design templates. This tool is awesome. It provides many features for free. I think it is the best survey creation tool!

  8. AJM
    Posted July 11, 2014 at 5:04 pm | Permalink

    A digital-only library may be perceived as a push-button operation requiring little or no professional presence. The downside of that perception is that the world of information is not yet a wholly self-service domain, and the professional librarian is a community asset, a trained guide to information. They help ask the “right” questions for our quest, and educate us in available resources, and in using the most productive search methods, so that we might acquire reliable, complete results.

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