America's first completely bookless public library opened in San Antonio this past weekend. That is, if you define a "book" as words printed on paper pages which are bound together with glue. But if you define "book" a bit more liberally, the new library has plenty them. Over 10,000 ebook titles, in fact. All of which can be accessed from their 900 e-readers, 57 computers, 40 iPads, and four touchscreen tables.
It's still too early to tell just how common the totally bookless library will become, but we're clearly one step closer to the futuristic world of paperless libraries that's been promised to Americans for decades. But is that a good thing?
The library as an institution is having a bit of an identity crisis here in the early 21st century. Broadly understood by the American public as a physical space that provides a community with access to information, deadtree books used to be a natural fit for the library. For centuries, books have functioned as a wonderful piece of technology, acting as an extremely portable, reasonably durable, and wonderfully sharable device for conveying ideas.
But nobody knows just how long the book will remain the dominant technology associated with libraries. The last half century has seen countless predictions about the bookless library of tomorrow. Even the home library in the living room of tomorrow was going to see a fundamental shift. And despite the recent plateau of ebook sales, there's a sense that the library is currently undergoing a major shift in its mission.