Bexar County in San Antonio will be launching the first pure digital library in the United States in August. The publicly funded library has raised over $200,000 to finance its new digital library and will feature 48 computers, 300 e-readers, and three Discovery Terminals via 3M.
We talked to Laura Cole, Special Projects Coordinator of BiblioTech about the origins of the upcoming digital library and the mentality of the staff going into it. “Buxer County has never run a library before and all of the surrounding county’s are limited to being established within city limits. We have been looking at ways to enhance the library services for people that normally don’t have access. How could we address this in a cost effective manor? In the past five years the expansion of digital books and their availability to libraries is significant.”
She went on to say “We first started discussing the feasibility of an all digital library in August 2012 and did our major research in September 2012. In December we the plan basically all ironed out, factoring in the pros and cons. We had appointments with various judges and the commissar’s court in January. This is when we publicly announced the new project and its tentative launch date. We have a county owned facility that featured 4800 sq.ft that wasn’t even being used! This particular location is ideal, it’s a under-served area of San Antonio. It features many schools nearby and a seniors center across the street.”
The main selling point behind this library is that its the first tangible location that will feature intangible content. There has been no precedent or case studies that have ever been done for this type of location and it has been a challenging task to plan out all aspects. Laura cited a number of organizations that have helped along the way “We spoke with many academic libraries, including the UTSA library on logistics. The Texas State Library Commission has also been very helpful.”
There are many digital library content distributors out there, that help libraries formulate an ebook system. The 3M Cloud Library managed to win the contract and has been very influential about helping guide Bibliotech. When it opens in August, the library will have 3 Discovery Terminals that will allow patrons to browse the wide selection of ebooks and load them onto the 3M Android/iOS apps, or one of the 300 e-readers. Recently, Hachette and Penguin have joined the library bandwagon, so there will be plenty of books to borrow.
When a library goes digital, there is often the question of data. How exactly do you go about reporting book purchases, loans, statistics, and other metrics? Laura said, “3M provides lots of data with their online reporting tools and how the content is being used. All of our information is public and has to be reported and how funds are being spent and our annual reports.” One of the big difficulties surrounding the digital library is the tangible and intangible. It might be easy to report on digital usage, but what about the metrics of e-readers being loaned out, people coming into the library and the average duration of a computer session? These are challenges facing the library that there is no current solution for.
It is safe to say that this library is getting a massive amount of media attention. Major news outlets and online websites have been reporting on the first pure digital library in the USA. Needless to say, this is very moving for everyone involved. Laura finalized “all of the press in print and digital are a driving factor for us, all the positive press helped us validate that the world is ready for us. People really want this, want to know how it works, what it can do for them, it’s so edgy.”
Michael Kozlowski has written about audiobooks and e-readers for the past twelve years. Newspapers and websites such as the CBC, CNET, Engadget, Huffington Post and the New York Times have picked up his articles. He Lives in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada.