A Bookless Library? Heresy!

library-stacksSay it ain’t so! San Antonio, Texas has plans to open the first bookless public library. My soul cries sacrilege! A library without books is like a temple without a god. According to the article, there will be e-books, e-readers available for check-out, and “aisles and aisles of computers and gadgets.”  The whole idea makes me shudder.

It’s not that I hate technology — I don’t. But I mistrust its aesthetic, its lack of romance. A library consisting of nothing but computer screens?  How would such a place smell? Without paper or cloth, leather or dust or glue, it would almost certainly lack the bouquet  of a real library — the aroma of accumulated knowledge.  And how is a patron to have a tête-à-tête among the stacks when there are no stacks? My mother and father arranged their first date in a library; it could be argued that I owe my entire existence to the bookshelves which fostered their flirtations.

More practically speaking, how are readers supposed to happen across a book while browsing for something else — or for nothing in particular? I’ve stumbled across some of my favorite books this way: Tennessee Williams’ The Roman Spring of Mrs. Stone, for example. Toni Morrison’s Jazz. Browsing a list of downloadable titles isn’t the same as wandering among shelves of books, tracing your finger along their spines.

Alas, I am a purist. For me, the difference between a book and an e-book is finally this: one is an artifact, and the other is merely a document. I love books for what they are — as objects — almost as much as I love the language and ideas inside of them.

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6 thoughts on “A Bookless Library? Heresy!

  1. AFP: I couldn’t agree more. It’s an interesting idea, and theoretically, I support the proposal that technology be used to foster literacy. But when I go to my local public library and glance at the people using the computers there, the majority of them aren’t reading news articles online or doing research, they’re Facebooking.

    So I have to wonder how much “real” reading will be happening at the “bookless library.” My guess is that is will be more like an information depot than a sanctuary for literature.

  2. I’m “old school library” all the way. Maybe it’s mostly for nostalgia, but I spent some of the best hours of my life reading printed books in libraries. I also worked at my college library for four years. We used computers to help with database research and catalog searches, but printed texts were the main focus.

  3. I will be honest and admit I often browse books by their covers …so now what! Secondly, don’t e-readers/e-books suggest conveniently downloadable content that can be viewed anywhere you like? Which begs the question; why a library in the first place when you have the all prevailing ‘cloud’ at your fingertips? Maybe it’s just a transition, with the nail in the coffin coming when the librarians are replaced by data dispensing droids.

    I’m sure they’ll be charming though.

    1. To be fair, the library in the article would presumably make e-readers available to people who perhaps could not afford to own one. And e-books do often have “cover” art. Nevertheless, something about the bookless library concept seems cold to me.

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