San Antonio, Texas - First Computer-Only Digital Library
Digital Library Requires Period of Adjustment
There is not much to see when you walk into the front entrance of the Bexar County Library System's BiblioTech building. Beyond the orange lobby without decorations, it offers white walls with bands of orange at the top moldings that shine indirect lighting onto the white ceiling. Two rows of white iMacs sit atop long white tables furnished with backless green-topped stools. A few newsletter holders hang on one wall, but no other décor is evident.
Recent visitors have described the library's staff as dressing to resemble Apple Store employees, making the total picture of BiblioTech ("library" in Russian and several other languages) seem to be a futurist Houston Space Center. There is nothing to do in this facility but sit at a computer or stand at an iPad locked to a table and read.
The Digital Library
Urban Library and Power Concerns
As of the end of 2013, according to the Dallas Morning News and the US Census Bureau, San Antonio was the 7th largest city in the nation, but lagged at 60th place in literacy. The digital nature of the Bibliotech and the fact that digital "books" are recorded in a database and cannot be lost may help to improve the city's literacy standing.
One fears that a power surge could wipe out the eBook database of the library or that a disaster could disable power for weeks, both ending access to the books and their vital information in the database. The database is likely backed up, but we need to invent longer lived batteries in the case of long-term power failure. This all may be alarmist, but more immediate and important concerns confront us.
This library is located in the low income area of San Antonio, a Texas city that otherwise was untouched by the Great Recession of 2008 - 2010 and continued to increase new job listings and new businesses regardless of economic activity in the rest of the USA. However, the corner of Oppenheimer and Amber is an urban area in need of refurbishing.
Pleasanton Road runs north and south in front of the complex that houses the Bibliotech and county tax assessors, with a convenient city bus stop at the corner of Pleasanton and Amber. A housing complex is located on the other side of Pleasanton Road.
Decor and Customer Engagement
In my large city, a smaller branch of our metropolitan library network followed the system-wide trend of the 2000s by redecorating to resemble a book store. This was successful in encouraging the community to use the library more frequently for longer periods of time.This was true for people of all ages that lived within a few blocks of the library.
Middle school students took a bus from the nearby school to the library at 3:00 PM daily and studied, received structured homework help, read, used online math and English programs, and participated in reading groups and art activities until 9:00 PM Monday through Thursday (6:00 PM on Friday). Then, parents picked them up from the facility or the students walked a short distance home with their homework completed and checked by an adult - for free.
The time spent reading and participating in other activities doubtless increased the scholastic achievement of the students using the library, but at least it was a good alternative to time spent on the streets or alone at home with a computer game. In fact, pregnancy and crime among that group of students was very low, since the hours of 3:00 PM - 6:00 PM were "Prime Time" for those problems among youth in the neighborhood left home alone.
Engaging artwork and warm décor colors enhanced the engagement of people of all ages that used the library. Thus far, the Texas BiblioTech seems a sterile environment with little to do.
The BiblioTech expects 100,000 visitors to its site throughout 2014. However, it has only 48 iMacs. With a high school nearby, these 48 may be filled up quickly on a daily basis after school, since the neighborhood seems to be in the deep end of digital divide, most homes having no Internet service, particularly Wi-Fi. Limited computer classes at BiblioTech will certainly help residents that have no computer experience.
Librarians from other states are interested in the Bibliotech concept because of its convenience, smaller size, and sustainability advantages - no books to use or trees to chop for paper books.
The library used to be a fun gathering place and a second home to a lot of people. Bibliotech might not afford such an experience, but it is a good community resource as long as the power the the database in the Cloud stay robust.
- BiblioTech - Bexar County's Digital Library
Welcome to Bexar County BiblioTech - the country's first digital public library
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