The Future of the Ebook

There’s Soon to Be a Public Library in Texas With No Books

The future!
Cool spaceship, dawg. (Photo: Bexar County Commissioners Court, via ABC News)

Cool spaceship, dawg. (Photo: Bexar County Commissioners Court, via ABC News)

Well, futurists, are you happy now? ABC News reports that there will soon be an American public library that, in fact, has no physical books. Replacing them: a combination of ebooks, ereaders and computer terminals.

Christ, nobody tell everyone already freaking out about the renovation of the New York Public Library.  

This fall, Bexar County (home to San Antonio) plans to open the BiblioTech, a new public library focused on providing access to the Internet and to digital titles. It’ll launch with 100 e-readers available for circulation. We can’t even fathom what the late fees look like for a Kindle.

The project is the brainchild of one Judge Nelson Wolff. It’s not that he’s out to overthrow the tyranny of dead-tree media, exactly; he just read the Steve Jobs biography and had a road to Damascus moment:

“We 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. “But the world is changing and this is the best, most effective way to bring services to our community.”

We are duly impressed by your extensive library of first editions, sir.

However, there’s a big problem with this project–besides the fact that $100 goes a lot farther for books than gadgets. Ebooks have long been a bit of a headache for libraries. That’s because only Random House and HarperCollins offer ebooks for widespread sale to libraries, and even then the licensing and restrictions on use are a headache. 

Back in September, the head of the American Library Association released an open letter to the publishing business, translating all these wheeling and dealings into the patron’s experience:  

If our libraries’ digital bookshelves mirrored the New York Times fiction bestseller list, we would be missing half of our collection any given week due to these publishers’ policies…. Today’s teens also will not find the digital copy of Judy Blume’s seminal Forever,nor today’s blockbuster Hunger Games series.

Frankly, the thought of a future where teens are denied access to Judy Blume is appalling.

Follow Kelly Faircloth on Twitter or via RSS. kfaircloth@observer.com