50,000 Shades of Grey: The Wonder of Bookless Libraries

kindleWhat if you could fit a library’s entire collection in the palm of your hand? That’s the idea behind an upcoming bookless public library in San Antonio. Called BiblioTech, the system will lend out e-readers loaded with 10,000 titles for two-to-three-week periods. But don’t bother holding on to the device longer than that because it’s programmed to go dead.

Other libraries have tried similar programs: In 2002, the Santa Rosa Branch Library in Tucson, Arizona, launched a digital-only facility, and a bookless project was proposed last year in Newport Beach, California. Those digital-only projects folded—residents wanted their paperbacks—but Stanford University maintains a successful bookless engineering library with over 65,000 titles. Officials say digital libraries are a low-cost way to educate the masses and argue that their rise is inevitable.

Still, some insist print isn’t doomed. A recent Wall Street Journal article notes that e-book purchases skew heavily toward the sort of “light entertainment” novels you can pick up at the grocery store. A survey from the Pew Research Center shows that about 90 percent of digital readers still crack open physical tomes. (After all, there are only four Twilight books. How hard is it to lug those around?)

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