Say 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.