BiblioTech, an entirely digital library, has opened in Bexar County, Texas.

Instead of browsing through row after row of shelves covered in dusty books, patrons simply download the titles they want from the cloud. Thanks to the 3M Cloud Library, they can choose from 10,000 books, and that number is expected to grow in the years ahead. The selection includes everything from Neil Gaiman’s €œThe Ocean at the Edge of the Lane€  to Penny Junor’s biography of Britain’s Prince William. Patrons can either download their selection to their own mobile device with the 3M Cloud Library app or read it on one of the library’s 600 e-readers.

In addition to offering good reads, BiblioTech aims to become a digital Mecca for the community. The library offers 48 computer stations and laptops and tablets that can be checked out for onsite use. The library is located in a predominantly low-income Hispanic neighborhood where 75 percent of the population lacks home internet access, so BiblioTech can help connect these people to the digital world. And unlike an internet cafe or a coffee shop, Bexar County residents can access the library for free.

BiblioTech has the same sleek, modern feel of an Apple store. In keeping with is innovative spirit, county officials eschewed the traditional ribbon cutting for the grand opening festivities. Instead, the press of a button fired a pair of confetti cannons.

Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff was the driving force behind BiblioTech. He was inspired to come up with the concept for BiblioTech after reading a biography of Apple founder Steve Jobs. €œWe all know the world is changing. I am an avid book reader. I read hardcover books, I have a collection of 1,000 first editions. Books are important to me,€ Wolff told ABC News back in January. “But the world is changing and this is the best, most effective way to bring services to our community.”

BiblioTech is not the first library to ditch paper books. NPR’s Reema Khrais reported that the Santa Rosa Branch Library in Tucson, Arizona tried going entirely digital way back in 2002. But the experiment proved to be something of a failure, and patrons eventually requested that paper books be added to the collection.

Sarah Houghton, the director of the San Rafael Public Library in California, told Khrais that it would likely be a while before digital libraries take over. €œFirst, some people simply prefer physical media €” they don’t want to read on a device.€

Additionally, less tech-savvy patrons are likely to need more individualized help, which would require additional staff costs. €œ”A huge element is training staff, and that’s even presuming that the library can afford enough of these devices to meet the demand.€

Licensing also remains an issue. Digital lending is still an evolving field, and many publishers are reluctant to let libraries access their catalogs. Even when they are willing to strike a deal, the terms can often be prohibitively expensive for cash-strapped municipal library system.


Image credit: Bexar Bibliotech via Facebook