By: Matt Calvert

“A room without books is like a life without meaning.” – Thomas Jefferson

Jefferson may be turning over in his grave, as the country’s first bookless library is set to open in San Antonio’s Bexar County. Yes, you read that right, a library without books. The “BiblioTech” is the brainchild of County Judge Nelson Wolff who told the San Antonio Express News that the idea came to him after reading Apple founder Steve Jobs’ biography.

Though he read the biography in print, Wolff sees the library as the product of a changing world and is “the best, most effective way to bring services to [his] community.” Wolff would seem to be an Apple man through and through. When asked for a layout design, he says that he wants it to look like an Apple store.

Enhancing, Not Replacing The Public Library

Wolff says that the “BiblioTech” will “not be a replacement for the [city] library system,” but “an enhancement” to it – an important distinction considering the public outcry that blocked a Newport Beach, California library’s proposed transformation of its original branch into a bookless one.

The University of Texas at San Antonio and Stanford’s engineering school library have both offered bookless collections, but no other public city or county library has provided these services before. The Bexar County branch proposal will likely be seen positively, since they currently have no public library system and instead pay the city of San Antonio $3.7 million per year for access to its library system.

Hundreds of Digital Devices to be Available for Check Out

The branch would start with 100 e-readers available for circulation, and then 50 e-readers for children, 50 computer stations, 25 laptops, and 25 tablets available for use on site in its 5,000 square foot location. Some people have raised concerns over the possibility of theft of the devices, but Wolff is confident that it won’t be a problem. He says that “we do have your name, we do have your address. You check it out for two weeks, just like a library book. In two weeks, your e-book goes dead, so you won’t have anything worth keeping.”

With more information becoming digital, it is important to give opportunities for everyone to get online, not just those with the personal resources to buy computers or data plans. Libraries such as this could do a lot to help close the digital divide by providing access to devices that access the internet at little to no cost and moving towards the goal of universal access.

What do you think? Is the bookless library the future, or do you still prefer opening the pages of a leafed-through old book? Do you think San Francisco should look into the possibility of a bookless library of its own?