Is a library without books the future?

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(Photo credit: Associated Press/Eric Gay)

First aired on Spark (19/1/2014) 

A bookless library sounds like a paradox but in San Antonio, Texas, it's a thriving reality. America's first digital public library, BiblioTech, opened in Bexar County in the fall. 

There are no paperbacks or hardcovers here, but e-readers, tablets, rows of iMacs, touch screen tables, and even Xbox 360 Kinects.

Nora Young, host of CBC Radio's Spark, spoke with head librarian Ashley Eklof about the services the library offers and the benefits of a digital library over a traditional one. "I'm able to focus on providing what the community needs," Eklof said. "We're able to step away from the desk, the back room and interact with the community."

The library deals primarily in e-books but if you don't have your own device, you can borrow one of their 600 basic e-readers. Download up to five books at one time and you have two weeks to read them. Their collection has 10,000 titles and counting.

And late fees are a thing of the past.

More on CBC Books

"By providing e-books we eliminate fines for the book. It will disappear off the device. The next person has access to it two minutes later."

For Eklof, there are benefits to the digital library but she still sees a future with a mix of paper-based and digital libraries. Other attempts at the digital library have failed in the U.S. but there are a few possible reasons it's working in Bexar County. One factor could be that they are the first library in a low-income area that most businesses have shied away from.

"This model works now because people are ready. We weren't replacing print books with e-books. I wonder if people wouldn't have been as receptive if we were throwing out print books to make way for e-books."

Do you think a bookless library has more advantages than a traditional library? Let us know what you think about the future of digital libraries in the comments!