Rare Book Monthly

Articles - February - 2014 Issue

A Public Library Without Books – Good or Bad?

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The newswires carried a story recently about a library in San Antonio. It is a library without books. While this is not a first – there are some such libraries in educational institutions – it is apparently the first community library without books. It is called “BiblioTech,” and it is located in a low-income neighborhood, though it is available to all residents of San Antonio and Bexar County, Texas (pronounced like “bear,” or if you drawl, perhaps like the aspirin, “Bayer”).

 

What does BiblioTech have? According to their website, 48 computer stations, 10 laptops, 40 tablets, and 600 e-readers (available for loan), including 200 preloaded for children. And, of course, zero books. E-readers can be loaded with up to five e-books and may be taken out for two weeks. After that, they automatically become nonfunctional until returned.

 

The library is apparently very popular. Reportedly, it is on pace to exceed 100,000 visitors in its first year. That seems a bit high, but obviously it is doing better than many libraries, some of which have become relative ghosts towns over the years. BiblioTech has struck a chord, particularly with young people. After school hours are particularly busy.

 

Its location in a lower income area undoubtedly has helped it achieve such success. Computers, tablets, and e-readers are not as commonly owned by people of more limited means. In wealthier neighborhoods, it's hard to imagine many families not owning at least one of these devices, and possibly all three. Those lacking access to the wired world at home are more likely to come to a library offering this service. It is hard to imagine many young people living without it.

 

Is a library without books a good thing? That question has been ardently debated, particularly among those in the library community, but ultimately, does it make any difference? The market will decide, which is to say, the community will decide. Those who disagree will represent a minority opinion, and the majority rules.

 

The reality is that printed books are a vehicle, not an end. They are a vehicle for information, education, entertainment, communication. They are not an end in themselves. Five hundred years ago, printed books were a major step up from handwritten manuscripts, in turn a step-up from stone tablets, cave drawings, and before that, simple spoken memory. They maintained a predominant role for half a millennium, but in the past century, other means of conveying information have proliferated. First there was radio, then television, and now the boundless world of the internet and digital “books.” No one is mourning the loss of stone tablets or cave drawings. If the printed book is to survive in the electronic age, it will only be because future generations continue to find books useful, not because past generations were accustomed to them.

 

Whither goes the library? It, too, will follow the community. We will undoubtedly see more electronic libraries in the years ahead. They may be bookless, they may have books but in reduced quantities. Their clientele will decide, and that may depend to some extent on the average age of their patrons. In time, though, it will depend on whether at least a portion of younger people still like the tactual, physical book some of the time. They will decide. Think of recorded music. Musical tapes have disappeared, and the CD may well follow them out the door, and yet the older, vinyl disc has had a resurgence, albeit as a niche item. Some young people just like the sound that comes from vinyl better than that of electronic bits. Hopefully, the same will be true of printed books, but that is for another generation to decide.

 

For libraries the larger question is will they remain as relevant to community needs as they are today, or will they too become niche players in the information age? Replacing paper books with electronic gadgets led to a surge in use at BiblioTech, but this library is appealing to an audience that does not own many of these devices. In time, more of it will. Hopefully, society will do more to raise people out of poverty, but even if not, the cost of these devices will continue to drop, and even those below the poverty line will own them. It will be like televisions today. Even poor people own televisions. They cost so little anymore. As more poorer people come to own devices that access the information world from home, will anyone come to libraries any more?

 

Now libraries provide other services. Assistance with research, locating books (or e-books) you might like to read are examples. However, try finding such assistance at places like stores any more. It's not easy. Or, try calling a bank for help. You will be wired through electronic devices that provide inhuman answers, or, if you are lucky, you will be routed to some very low wage worker in a far off land you may not be able to understand. Will economics dictate that local library personal service be replaced with distant call centers and automated machines? Libraries are generally paid for by government, and too often, attempting to reach government offices these days won't even get you to a far away call center or machine. They just don't answer the phone. Will they care any better about library service?

 

Of course, there is the social aspect of libraries. They provide a place where people can meet, talk, share information and friendship. But, will this even matter to a generation that does its socializing on Facebook? We, of the book generation, may not like the changes a new generation has wrought, but as an old piece of vinyl warned our parents about us years ago, our sons and our daughters are beyond our command. Indeed, the times they are a-changin'.

Rare Book Monthly

  • <b>19th Century Shop:</b> Charles Darwin on sexuality and the transmission of hereditary characteristics: Autograph Letter Signed to Lawson Tait. Down, 17 January [1877].
    <b>19th Century Shop:</b> MILTON, JOHN. <i>Paradise Lost. A Poem written in ten books.</i> London: 1667. A very rare example with the contemporary binding untouched and with a 1667 title page.
    <b>19th Century Shop:</b> Hamilton secures the ratification of the Constitution: <i>The Debates and Proceedings of the Convention of the State of New-York, assembled at Poughkeespsie, on the 17th June, 1788.</i>
    <b>19th Century Shop:</b> The social contract “Man is born free, and everywhere he is in chains”: ROUSSEAU, JEAN-JACQUES. <i>Principes du Droit Politique [Du Contract Social]</i>. Amsterdam: Michel Rey, 1762
    <b>19th Century Shop:</b> “The first English textbook on geometrical land-measurement and surveying”: BENESE, RICHARD. <i>This Boke Sheweth the Maner of Measurynge All Maner of Lande…</i>
  • <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Luis de Lucena, <i>Arte de Ajedres,</i> first edition of the earliest extant manual on modern chess, Salamanca, circa 1496-97. Sold for $68,750.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Carte-de-visite album with 83 images of prominent African Americans & abolitionists, circa 1860s. Sold for $47,500.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Gustav Klimt, <i>Das Werk,</i> Vienna & Leipzig, 1918. Sold for $106,250.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Man Ray, <i>[London Transport] – Keeps London Going,</i> 1938. Sold for $149,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Thomas Jefferson, Letter Signed, to Major-General Nathanael Greene, promising reinforcements against Cornwallis, 1781. Sold for $35,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Nicolas de Fer, <i>L’Amerique Divisee Selon Letendue de ses Principales Parties,</i> Paris, 1713. Sold for $30,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Russell H. Tandy, <i>The Secret in the Old Attic,</i> watercolor, pencil & ink, 1944. Sold for $35,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Ernest Hemingway, <i>Three Stories & Ten Poems,</i> first edition of the author's first book, Paris, 1923. Sold for $23,750.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Walker Evans, <i>River Rouge Plant,</i> silver print, 1947. Sold for $57,500.
  • <b>Chiswick Auctions: Summer Books. August 22, 2018</b>
    <b>Chiswick Auctions, Aug. 22:</b> Adams (Richard). <i>Watership Down,</i> FIRST EDITION, author inscription on front free end paper, folded map tipped in, original boards, dust-jacket. £800 to £1,200
    <b>Chiswick Auctions, Aug. 22:</b> Bowles (John). <i>Several Prospects of the Most…la Ville de Londres, avec des Remarques Historiques fort Succinctes, qui les Regardant,</i> 20 double page engraved plates only, of 23, 1724. £200 to £300
    <b>Chiswick Auctions, Aug. 22:</b> Auden (W.H.). <i>Our Hunting Fathers,</i> FIRST SEPARATE EDITION, 1 of 22 copies, COPY B OF 5 PRINTED ON NORMANDIE, original patterned wrappers, Cambridge, for Frederic Prokosch, 1935. £800 to £1200
    <b>Chiswick Auctions: Summer Books. August 22, 2018</b>
    <b>Chiswick Auctions, Aug. 22:</b> Barrie (J. M.) & Attwell (Mabel Lucie, illustrator). <i>Peter Pan & Wendy,</i> FIRST EDITION, 12 chromolithograph plates, publisher's blue cloth, original printed dust jacket, [c.1920]; and 3 others (4). £200 to £300
    <b>Chiswick Auctions, Aug. 22:</b> Bartolozzi (Francesco). Genius Calling Forth the Fine Arts to Adorn Manufactures and Commerce; Agriculture (Husbandry Aided by Arts and Commerce), glazed and framed. £200 to £300
    <b>Chiswick Auctions, Aug. 22:</b> A collection of engraved caricatures, including Gillray ([James]) Tales of Wonder!, 1802; Rowlandson (Thomas) Sports, Smock Racing, 1811;Irish Jaunting Carr, 1814. £400 to £600
    <b>Chiswick Auctions: Summer Books. August 22, 2018</b>
    <b>Chiswick Auctions, Aug. 22:</b> Bennett (Charles H, illustrator). <i>Æsop’s Fables,</i> 1875; Buchanan (Robert). <i>Ballad Stories of the Affections,</i> [1866]; Douce (Francis), The Dance of Death, 1833. £200 to £300
    <b>Chiswick Auctions, Aug. 22:</b> Chinese Illustrations. A group of 6 Cantonese rice paper illustrations, depicting scenes of torture with different instruments, gouache, c.340 x 220mm, original wrapper boards preserved, [c. 1800]. £200 to £300
    <b>Chiswick Auctions, Aug. 22:</b> Dulac (Edmund). <i>The Queen of Romania, The Dreamer of Dreams,</i> 5 coloured plates, [1915]; and others illustrated by Edmund Dulac. £300 to £400
    <b>Chiswick Auctions: Summer Books. August 22, 2018</b>
    <b>Chiswick Auctions, Aug. 22:</b> Fronth (Per). Xingu Chronicles, the portfolio, comprising 30 plates, photogravues in colours, each signed, dated and titled in pencil, each numbered 10/35, on wove paper, 790 x 600 x 60mm, 1997. £300 to £400
    <b>Chiswick Auctions, Aug. 22:</b> Pasternak (Boris). <i>Doctor Zhivago,</i> FIRST ENGLISH EDITION, original red publisher’s cloth, pictorial dust jacket, 4to, Collins & Harvill Press, 1958. £200 to £300
    <b>Chiswick Auctions, Aug. 22:</b> 13 sepia photographs of visitors to the Thermes Nationaux d’Aix-les-Bains, c. 150 x 105mm, c.1890 (12). £300 to £400
  • <b>Bonhams: September 25, New York</b>
    <b>Bonhams, June 12 results:</b> Ernst, Max. <i>Mr. Knife and Miss Fork</i>. Paris, 1932. DELUXE EDITION. Sold for $15,625
    <b>Bonhams, June 12 results:</b> Cage, John. Autograph musical leaf from his Concert for Piano and Orchestra, NY, 1958. Sold for $18,750
    <b>Bonhams, June 12 results:</b> Cage, John. Autograph musical leaf from his Concert for Piano and Orchestra, NY, 1958. Sold for $18,750
    <b>Bonhams: September 25, New York</b>
    <b>Bonhams, June 12 results:</b> Einstein, Albert. Signed Passport Photo for his US citizenship application. Bermuda, 1935. Sold for $17,500
    <b>Bonhams, June 12 results:</b> Verard, Antoine. Illuminated printed Book of Hours. Paris, 1507. Sold for $7,500
    <b>Bonhams, June 12 results:</b> Wetterkurzschlussel. German Weather Report Codebook - for Enigma use. Berlin, 1942. Sold for $225,000
    <b>Bonhams: September 25, New York</b>
    <b>Bonhams, June 12 results:</b> Morelos y Pavon, Jose Maria. Autograph letter signed to El Virrey Venegas, February 5, 1812. Sold for $6,250
    <b>Bonhams, June 12 results:</b> Milne, A.A. Complete set of <i>Winnie-the-Pooh</i> books. 4 volumes. All first issue points. London, 1924-1928. Sold for $5,250
    <b>Bonhams, June 12 results:</b> A 48-star American Flag, battle worn flown at Guadalcanal and Peleliu, 1942-1944. Sold for $35,000
    <b>Bonhams, June 12 results:</b> Locke, John. Autograph Letter Signed mourning the death of his friend, William Molyneaux, 2 pp, October 27, 1698. Sold for $20,000

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