The BiblioTech Library – Innovative or Ill-Conceived?


Have you heard about the BiblioTech Library in San Antonio? It made headlines last year as “the country’s first digital public library,”  and was in the news again recently. Here’s the lowdown on it:

  • The Bibliotech Library opened to the public in September 2013.
  • While public, it is not associated with the San Antonio Public Library system.
  • It was built with $1.9 million in county tax funds, as well as $500,000 from private donations. (Source: Time)
  • It’s located in an economically depressed area where 75 percent of the population lacks Internet access (Source: mySA)
  • The Mission Branch Library [of the San Antonio public library system] is located about 3 miles from Bibliotech.
  • It was the brain child of Bexar County’s Judge Nelson Wolff, who was inspired by Walter Isaacson’s biography about Steve Jobs. Inspiration such that the library resembles an Apple store. (Source: ABC News)
  • The staff even wear uniforms.
  • This is not an entirely new idea. It was tried before in 2002 as a branch library in Santa Rosa, AZ. That didn’t work out, people began requesting “actual books.” (Source: NPR)

I’d like to start a conversation about this. What do you think? Innovative? Ill-conceived? Somewhere in between?

Please share your comments, and I’ll add my two cents as the conversation grows!


5 thoughts on “The BiblioTech Library – Innovative or Ill-Conceived?

  1. Interesting. It’s in San Antonio and is being called a public library, but it isn’t affiliated with the San Antonio system. I have to say, as a librarian I have no desire to work in a library that feels like an Apple store and where I have to dress like a retail worker. As a library user, I wouldn’t find such an environment very appealing, either. As I’ve read about this library, several questions have popped into my head: Contrary to what a lot of people seem to want to believe, not everything is available in digital form, so what will this library do – particularly since it is a public library – when a patron needs/wants something that is still only available in print? Are they planning to increase their ILL services? Will they just send them to the Mission Branch of the SA system? How are they going to handle those patrons who simply want a print copy regardless of there being a digital available? I thought it interesting in one article I read that a potential user (a member of a young demographic) stated that she couldn’t read a great quantity of material from a screen — it hurt her eyes.

    So, it’s going to be interesting to see how the community embraces – or not – this new library. Will it became a library only for those who have fully engaged digital over print? Anyone still with a need or desire for print must go elsewhere? I think particularly for a library in an economically depressed area it is laudable to provide technology for those who cannot afford their own, but we don’t need to be throwing the baby out with the bath water. Print still has its use. What most of us are doing in our libraries is focusing on content and services, and then once those needs are identified, determine the best means of delivery. Sometimes that is still print.

    • I had a similar reaction, and wondered how much resource duplication with the public library has resulted from this. That seems wasteful. I also picked up on the young teen user you mentioned from that article. Clearly, Bibliotech is not meeting her needs. Also, in that same article there was a father who had to leave the library when his young child started crying. So the library isn’t kid-friendly. Too bad. And as a mother myself, I know the importance of early literacy development as a sensory experience. Technology can’t meet those sensory needs – at least not yet.

      I’ll be curious to see how this library plays out in that community.

  2. Hello,

    As you pointed out in your entry, it is not innovative since it’s been attempted before. Nor is it ill-conceived. While it does not offer all that a traditional library might, it does provide an additional option for putting materials in patrons’ hands. Also, it provides an example of experimentation and risk, something that traditional libraries want but are often unable to engage in. In the process, their community stands to gain and library professionals will be able to draw updated insights from the effort.

    Thanks for the post!

    • I will definitely be keeping my eye on how this library fares. It’s certainly an interesting idea.

      The only area where I think maybe it was ill-conceived was in funding. If this were an entirely privately funded enterprise, it wouldn’t make me quite as uncomfortable. I do have to wonder of it was the best use of taxpayer dollars. How much of an overlap in sources and services exists with the public library system? And why (oh why) didn’t they apply these tax dollars toward literacy specialists in the schools and adult literacy and ESL programs? Bexar county has a very high illiteracy rate among both adults and children, and Texas unfortunately is known for underfunding literacy initiatives (which are sorely needed). I don’t think the judge had basic literacy in mind when establishing funds for the digital library. He might have been thinking about the digital divide, but of course we all know the digital divide is about way more than digital access.

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