Lissa Bryan (who has featured on this blog before) today tweeted this:


Borrowing the photo in the original LA Times article, this is what the world’s first paperless library, in Texas, looks like:

APphoto_Bookless Library

It was built with $1.9 million in county tax money and $500,000 in private donations. Time magazine said it “looks like an orange-hued Apple store and is stocked with 10,000 e-books, 500 e-readers, 48 computers, and 20 iPads and laptops.

At first glance, I’m taken aback by the financials there – spending $2.4 million on what can’t yet be deemed necessary by any stretch. I’ll happily confess my adoration for real books (and as an update to an earlier post, I now do own a Kindle), but sentimentality aside, is there a reason for paperless books? In days gone by, libraries served as wonderful places to find and read books that you didn’t otherwise have access to, or just browsing for inspiration. If, though, libraries are jumping into the 21st century with such aplomb, reinventing themselves as, well, “orange-hued Apple stores”, are they hammering the nail into their own coffin? The digital information is accessible to us at home now, and while visiting the local library to see a genuine copy of Carl Jung’s work is worth the trip, I can’t imagine anyone doing the same when they can read the same text in the same format at home on their computer. That makes me wonder if these libraries will appeal to those who don’t have the Internet at home, but then, people unfamiliar with technology are the first to get frustrated by it, suggesting that such people would still rather have the paper books in a library – after all, they don’t have a learning curve.

Evidently, I’m not alone in thinking this:

In 2002, the Tucson-Pima Public Library system in Arizona opened a book-free branch, providing Web-based services and job training. But after just a few years, the library phased in printed materials. Its patrons demanded them.

As one Tucson librarian told the writer Carrie Russell on her blog recently: “It was the community – the people who lived in the surrounding neighborhoods – that requested that print books be added to the library. They expected books, and they wanted books. Today, the Santa Rosa Branch Library provides everything you would want to see in your library.”

What do you think? Are paperless libraries the way forward?