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San Antonio, Texas - First Computer-Only Digital Library

Updated on June 23, 2014
48 iMacs inhabit the digital library in San Antonio.
48 iMacs inhabit the digital library in San Antonio. | Source

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

A marker3505 Pleasanton Road, San Antonio TX -
3505 Pleasanton Road, San Antonio, TX 78221, USA
get directions

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.

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BiblioTech does resemble this Apple Store, but with nothing on the walls.Imagine the tables painted white and connected.
BiblioTech does resemble this Apple Store, but with nothing on the walls.
BiblioTech does resemble this Apple Store, but with nothing on the walls. | Source
Imagine the tables painted white and connected.
Imagine the tables painted white and connected. | Source
The local library displays look like this.
The local library displays look like this. | Source

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.


BiblioTech Future

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.

I Still Like These Libraries



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    • Patty Inglish, MS profile image

      Patty Inglish 3 years ago from North America

      I agree! -- I also like the smell of books, especially older editions.

    • Maren Morgan M-T profile image

      Maren Elizabeth Morgan 3 years ago from Pennsylvania

      I still find a paper book in my hands to be a very satisfying and comforting sensation. Thanks, Patty, for interesting news.

    • Patty Inglish, MS profile image

      Patty Inglish 3 years ago from North America

      Those are good thoughts, RonElFran. I hope the digital library begins some additional planned activities; I see that they do have a book club.

      Boxes of books are pretty heavy. I think an eReader is great, unless we want a first edition of a collectible book.

      Thanks for posting!

    • RonElFran profile image

      Ronald E Franklin 3 years ago from Mechanicsburg, PA

      Good reporting! It'll be interesting to see how this concept plays out. I haven't visited my local library in several years. Finding that my library card was no longer valid and I'd have to reapply has so far presented a barrier higher than my motivation to go. I guess I'm saying traditional libraries will have to change to survive. Hopefully experiments like BiblioTech will point the way.

    • Patty Inglish, MS profile image

      Patty Inglish 3 years ago from North America

      Shyron E. Shenko - I think you might be able to buy them frozen White Castles at some of your supermarkets. Looking up locations, the closest to TX is in St. Louis - kind of far to drive, huh? :) I should find something else to compare the library to. lol

    • Shyron E Shenko profile image

      Shyron E Shenko 3 years ago from Texas

      Wow Patty, I wish we had one here, I prefer my PC to a Mac, I must admit I was tempted to buy the IMac you have pictured at the beginning of your article.

      White Castle? I miss those sliders, did not know we had them in Texas.

      Voted up, Useful, Awesome, Beautiful and Interesting, and sharing

    • Patty Inglish, MS profile image

      Patty Inglish 3 years ago from North America

      They have computer classes, but I bet that online tutorials are available, since they want to educate the neighborhood in digital skills.

      Some coffee shops have small book libraries and maybe these will enlarge a little as the libraries streamline.

      Thanks for posting, MsDora.

    • MsDora profile image

      Dora Isaac Weithers 3 years ago from The Caribbean

      Hooray to the San Antonio for introducing a brave new library world. I wonder if there are tutorials for older non-technological readers. I also like the old library better, but life moves forward.

    • Patty Inglish, MS profile image

      Patty Inglish 3 years ago from North America

      We may see many more of them in the future. I just thought of something else they rmind me of - the inside of a White Caste restaurant, with iMacs instead of food. LOL

      The computers are great, though, but there's no atmosphere to engge people.

    • RTalloni profile image

      RTalloni 3 years ago from the short journey

      Interesting to read about San Antonio's BiblioTech. Sound like a college. :) I had such wonderful experiences in my childhood local library that it's sad to see the change, but the world is a very different place now. Thanks for highlighting the first all digital public library in America. We had heard it was coming… :)