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>Swann Auction Galleries Feb 25:<br>Art & Storytelling: Photographs<br>& Photobooks</b>
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Feb 25:</b> Marcus A. Root, "<i>General Tom Thumb</i>" with parents, daguerreotype, circa 1846. $30,000 to $40,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Feb 25:</b> William Saunders, <i>Sketches of Chinese Life and Character</i>, album with 50 hand-colored photographs, 1871-72. $25,000 to $35,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Feb 25:</b> Wilson A. Bentley, album of 25 microphotographs from glass<br>plate negatives, 1888-1927.<br>$20,000 to $30,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Feb 25:<br>Art & Storytelling: Photographs<br>& Photobooks</b>
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Feb 25:</b> Hilla & Bernhard Becher, <i>Anonyme Skulpturen, Eine Typologie technischer Bauten</i>, first edition inscribed, Düsseldorf, 1970. $1,200 to $1,800.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Feb 25:</b> Edward Ruscha, four seminal artist's books in original dust jackets.<br>$1,500 to $2,500.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Feb 25:</b> Typological set of more than 100 photographs of WWII fighter planes, 1942-45. $400 to $600.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Feb 25:</b><br>Roy DeCarava and Langston Hughes, <i>The Sweet Flypaper of Life</i>, first edition signed by authors, New York, 1955. $500 to $750.
  • <b>Bonhams Fine Books and Manuscripts, February 14th, 2016.</b>
    <b>Bonhams Feb 14th:</b> Lot 9. HIERONYMUS. C.340-420. <i>Epistolae. WITH: Lupus de Oliveto. Regula Monachorum ...</i> US$ 20,000-30,000.
    <b>Bonhams Feb 14th:</b> Lot 47. FROST, A.B. 1858-1921. Shooting Pictures. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons.<br>US$ 10,000-15,000.
    <b>Bonhams Feb 14th:</b> Lot 53. PICASSO, PABLO, RAOUL HAUSMANN, et al. ILIAZD, ed. Poesie de mots inconnus. 1949. US$ 8,000-12,000.
    <b>Bonhams Feb 14th:</b> Lot 64. BRIGGS, HENRY. 1561-1630. <i>The North Part of America</i>. [London: 1625]. Engraved by R. Elstracke. US$ 8,000-12,000.
    <b>Bonhams Feb 14th:</b> Lot 79. COPERNICUS, NICOLAUS. De revolutionibus orbium coelestium. 1566. US$ 80,000-120,000.
    <b>Bonhams Feb 14th:</b> Lot 80. DARWIN, CHARLES. On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, or the Preservation of ... US$ 70,000-90,000.
    <b>Bonhams Feb 14th:</b> Lot 87. NEWTON, ISAAC, SIR. Autograph Manuscript in Latin and English [n.p., early 1670s}. US$ 100,000-150,000
    <b>Bonhams Feb 14th:</b> Lot 93. Dr. Kary Mullis' 1993 Nobel Prize in Chemistry, awarded to him for the invention of the Polymerase Chain Reaction. US$ 450,000-550,000.
    <b>Bonhams Feb 14th:</b> Lot 96.<br>CLEMENS, SAMUEL. Autograph Manuscript, nearly complete chapter 30 of <i>A Tramp Abroad</i>, c.1879.<br>US$ 20,000-30,000.
    <b>Bonhams Feb 14th:</b> Lot 105. GOLF. [MATHISON, THOMAS. d.1754.]<br><i>The Goff</i>. An Heroi-Comical Poem.<br>US$ 40,000-60,000.
    <b>Bonhams Feb 14th:</b> Lot 113. JOYCE, JAMES. 1882-1941. <i>Ulysses</i>. First Edition, Presentation Copy, Signed and Inscribed by Joyce on the half-title. US$ 40,000-60,000.
    <b>Bonhams Feb 14th:</b> Lot 120. LONDON, JACK. Autograph Manuscript of the short story "Flush of Gold". US$ 40,000-60,000.
    <b>Bonhams Feb 14th:</b> Lot 135. STEINBECK, JOHN. Autograph Manuscript of an unpublished short story. US$ 35,000-45,000.
    <b>Bonhams Feb 14th:</b> Lot 149. GERONIMO. BARRETT, S.M., ed. Geronimo's Story of His Life. 1906. US$ 12,000-18,000.
    <b>Bonhams Feb 14th:</b> Lot 165.<br>ENOLA GAY. LEWIS, ROBERT A. An official pilot's log, 1942 to 1946.<br>US$ 50,000-80,000.
  • <b>Old World Auctions (Feb 3-17):</b><br>Lot 14. Blaeu,<i>Nova Totius Terrarum Orbis Geographica ac Hydrographica Tabula</i>, 1635. Est. $14000-$16000
    <b>Old World Auctions (Feb 3-17):</b><br>Lot 305. Arrowsmith, <i>Texas: The Rise, Progress, and Prospects of the Republic of Texas</i>, 1841. Est. $18000-$20000
    <b>Old World Auctions (Feb 3-17):</b><br>Lot 256. Thackara, <i>Plan of the City<br>of Washington in the Territory of Columbia</i>, 1792. Est. $13000-$16000
    <b>Old World Auctions (Feb 3-17):</b> <br>Lot 188. Browne/Senex, A New<br>Map of Virginia Mary-land, 1719. <br>Est. $5500-$6500
    <b>Old World Auctions (Feb 3-17):</b> <br>Lot 47. Cellarius, <i>Scenographia Systematis Copernicani</i>, 1708.<br>Est. $2400-$3000
    <b>Old World Auctions (Feb 3-17):</b> <br>Lot 6. Ortelius, <i>Typus Orbis Terrarum</i>, 1571. Est. $7000-$8500
    <b>Old World Auctions (Feb 3-17):</b> <br>Lot 413. De Medina, <i>Mundo Novo,</i> 1554. Est. $7000-$9000
    <b>Old World Auctions (Feb 3-17):</b> <br>Lot 37. Jansson, <i>Histoire des Grands Chemins de l'Empire Romain</i>, 1736. Est. $3000-$3750
    <b>Old World Auctions (Feb 3-17):</b> <br>Lot 798. Le Rouge, <i>Atlas Nouveau Portatif a l'Usage des Militaires</i>, 1748. Est. $2400-$3000
    <b>Old World Auctions (Feb 3-17):</b> <br>Lot 60. Munster, <i>Tabula Novarum Insularum</i>, 1559. Est. $5500-$7000
    <b>Old World Auctions (Feb 3-17):</b> <br>Lot 122. Morden, <i>A New Map of the English Empire in America</i>, 1695. <br>Est. $14000-$16000
    <b>Old World Auctions (Feb 3-17):</b> <br>Lot 291. J.J. Stoner, Niagara-Falls, <br>N.Y., 1882. Est. $1600-$1900
    <b>Old World Auctions (Feb 3-17):</b> <br>Lot 797. Sanson, <i>Die Gantze Erd-Kugel</i> ... Europa, Asia, Africa und America, 1679. Est. $8000-$10000
    <b>Old World Auctions (Feb 3-17):</b> <br>Lot 799. Lotter/Lobeck, Atlas Geographicus Portatilis, 1760.<br>Est. $1600-$1900
    <b>Old World Auctions (Feb 3-17):</b> <br>Lot 808. Railroad Companies, [<i>Manuscript Railroad Atlas</i>], 1890.<br>Est. $1000-$1500
    <b>Old World Auctions (Feb 3-17):</b> <br>Lot 800. Pinkerton, <i>A Modern Atlas</i>, 1815. Est. $8000-$10000
  • <b>19th Century Shop.</b> LINCOLN, ABRAHAM. <i>A superb collection of manuscripts signed by Lincoln and relics related to Lincoln’s death</i>. Washington, 1864-1865
    <b>19th Century Shop.</b> Rare Relic of the Underground Railroad (1857). <i>$500 Reward Ran away ...</i>
    <b>19th Century Shop.</b> CARTER, SUSANNAH. <i>The Frugal Housewife,</i> (1772) the second American cookbook, plates by Paul Revere.
    <b>19th Century Shop.</b> SCHIRRA, WALTER M.. Icon of the American Space Program. <i>A Complete Set of Schirra’s Flight Log Books (1947-69).</i>
    <b>19th Century Shop.</b> A fine pair of daguerreotypes, one a black nurse holding a white baby, the other the white parents. Maryland, c. 1853.
    <b>19th Century Shop.</b> The Internet. (COMPUTERS.) CERF, VINTON & KAHN, ROBERT. <i>"A Protocol for Packet Network Intercommunication" in IEEE Transactions on Communications.</i>

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