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Preservation or facilitation?
October 7, 2013 4:23 AM   Subscribe


 
Minecraft will look awesome on those big screens.
posted by R. Mutt at 4:35 AM on October 7, 2013 [2 favorites]


The Bexar County BiblioTech is a digital library; a place where community members go (or access remotely) to download e-books.
Next stage: a library-without-books without a building, because it's basically just a WiFi outlet. In fact, you could probably just call the local Starbucks a "library", and pretend that its staff are librarians.
posted by Joe in Australia at 4:38 AM on October 7, 2013 [11 favorites]


The "Library" we have now is the Internet. This "Bexar County BiblioTech" is just another interface. Some of the interfaces are mobile. Some are personal. Some have "actual books." Some allow lending. Some allow copying. Some make it harder than others to steal from.

As the last link puts it: All Libraries are “Real”
posted by chavenet at 4:47 AM on October 7, 2013 [1 favorite]


Next stage: a library-without-books without a building, because it's basically just a WiFi outlet. In fact, you could probably just call the local Starbucks a "library", and pretend that its staff are librarians.

But then the intent of a Starbucks is not to facilitate research, or the reading of books publicly, or the finding of books. It is to drink coffee. If it does these former things then the lack of paper on shelves does not prevent it from being one thing. If it does the latter, then even several perusable shelves would not make a library.
posted by solarion at 5:11 AM on October 7, 2013 [2 favorites]


This seems like a useful thing, and for the time being I'm not going to fault it for not being a different useful thing.
posted by Wolfdog at 5:18 AM on October 7, 2013 [6 favorites]


The very first sentence I read about this "bookless" library is that it has 10,000 e-books. I think we are having some definition problems.
posted by Pater Aletheias at 5:20 AM on October 7, 2013 [16 favorites]


The library, built with $1.9 million in county tax money and $500,000 in private donations,

Hey now. Taxpayer money. For a library. In Texas?

San Antonio is in Bexar County and a look at the 2014 budget reveals:

"Last year County Judge Nelson Wolff tasked me with researching the feasibility of providing library services in an entirely digital format. After several months of planning and research, in January 2013 the County announced plans for the Nation’s first all-digital public library, named the “BiblioTech”. Located at the Precinct 1 Satellite Office on Pleasanton Road, BiblioTech brings the changing landscape of technology and literacy together in an area of the county where an estimated 75 percent of households do not have internet access at home. Furthermore, the 10,000-title collection will be available through a “cloud” library to any Bexar County resident with a BiblioTech library card and an e-reader, smart phone, tablet reader, or computer from wherever they are 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. The library will open with 500 e-readers for circulation, 100 enhanced interactive e-readers for children, all of which can be checked out and taken home by BiblioTech card holders. Also, 48 desktop computer stations, 10 laptops, and 40 tablet computers will be available in the facility for internal circulation. The BiblioTech staff will work with the surrounding community and school districts to create engaging programming that will increase access to and understanding of technology, promote reading as recreation and equip the residents of our community with necessary tools to thrive as citizens of the 21st Century." (emphasis added.)

So it seems that this is really a public internet café with some library services on the side.
posted by three blind mice at 5:37 AM on October 7, 2013 [8 favorites]


Publishers are worried about selling a commodity that will never need replaced

Bookless libraries? I am more worried about editorless news outlets....
posted by GenjiandProust at 5:38 AM on October 7, 2013 [6 favorites]


Next stage: a library-without-books without a building, because it's basically just a WiFi outlet.

Already there: Library Box 2.0 and I think it's awesome.
posted by cjorgensen at 5:40 AM on October 7, 2013


It's as if they believe a library is some sort of . . . resource center . . . for public access . . . that holds more than just . . . books? waaah?
posted by Think_Long at 5:48 AM on October 7, 2013


Why was I not surprised at how a blog called "Cyborgology" answered the question of whether the net terminals are a real library?

Publishers are worried about selling a commodity that will never need replaced

As someone who has books on his shelves that I bought as much as 40 years ago, I'll believe this straw argument when I read the e-books I now have on my Kindle with no additional purchases or charges necessary 40 years from now (should I be lucky enough to live that long).
posted by aught at 5:49 AM on October 7, 2013 [3 favorites]


Metafilter: is it really a library? Yes it is.
posted by Segundus at 6:04 AM on October 7, 2013 [1 favorite]


from article: “Publishers are worried about selling a commodity that will never need replaced”

aught: “As someone who has books on his shelves that I bought as much as 40 years ago, I'll believe this straw argument when I read the e-books I now have on my Kindle with no additional purchases or charges necessary 40 years from now (should I be lucky enough to live that long).”

Uh – doesn't that prove the article's point precisely? Publishers are worried about selling a commodity that will never need replaced – so they impose ridiculous content locks and make it impossible or at least very difficult for consumers to share and to maintain the purchases they've made? Because that does seem to be true, no matter how one feels about it all.

GenjiandProust: “Bookless libraries? I am more worried about editorless news outlets....”

Meanwhile, nobody seems to be worried about publisher-free publishing. I know I sure ain't. Kind of looking forward to it, honestly.
posted by koeselitz at 6:09 AM on October 7, 2013


publisher-free publishing
Kind of looking forward to it,

It's already here yo. You are way more likely to reach a lot of people with a Medium or Tumblr post than you are with even an actual published book. You just won't get paid for it.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 6:12 AM on October 7, 2013 [5 favorites]


Yeah, it's here; but it hasn't really overtaken book publishing yet. So the old-style publishers are holding on with every grip they can get. That's what I'm looking forward to losing.
posted by koeselitz at 6:12 AM on October 7, 2013


Kind of looking forward to it, honestly.

Finally, all the dinosaur erotica we could want!
posted by GenjiandProust at 6:13 AM on October 7, 2013 [8 favorites]


I hope they offer devices and training to their patrons because there are LOTS of people who don't understand e-reading, can't afford the devices, etc.
posted by Foci for Analysis at 6:13 AM on October 7, 2013 [2 favorites]


I hope they offer devices and training to their patrons because there are LOTS of people who don't understand e-reading, can't afford the devices, etc.

"And those who don’t have an e-reader or tablet can check out one of the 600 devices available to patrons."

Sometimes your questions are answered if you read the articles the FPP links to!
posted by Tomorrowful at 6:17 AM on October 7, 2013 [3 favorites]


GenjiandProust: “Finally, all the dinosaur erotica we could want!”

Yes, because people like Genji and Proust were helped immensely by their publishers, who were kind and wonderful patrons dedicated solely to the dispersal of their brilliant art.
posted by koeselitz at 6:18 AM on October 7, 2013


Hey now. Taxpayer money. For a library. In Texas?

The key word is "DRM". I bet licensing bytes that can be read only X times before the license expires will funnel money to the publishers quite nicely.
posted by sukeban at 6:18 AM on October 7, 2013


Hey, you leave Proust's dinosaur erotica out of this.
posted by Holy Zarquon's Singing Fish at 6:19 AM on October 7, 2013 [9 favorites]


Potomac Avenue: "It's already here yo. You are way more likely to reach a lot of people with a Medium or Tumblr post than you are with even an actual published book. You just won't get paid for it."

Until you get that call to turn eroticallyshapedbeards.tumblr.com into a ... book.
posted by chavenet at 6:20 AM on October 7, 2013 [1 favorite]


Yes, because people like Genji and Proust were helped immensely by their publishers

Well, Genji was a fictional prince, so publishing would have been below him, anyway. Heck, Murasaki Shikibu predated publishing by probably 8 centuries. Considering that the chapters of the Tale of Genji were passed around at court, Lady Murasaki probably would have liked some kind of electronic distribution system. As for Proust, this article suggests (2/3 of the way down) that the process was grueling on all sides. For what it's worth, I think Proust might have liked electronic publishing. He revised constantly, and the ability to work from his bedroom would have been very attractive.
posted by GenjiandProust at 6:50 AM on October 7, 2013 [4 favorites]


As someone who has books on his shelves that I bought as much as 40 years ago, I'll believe this straw argument when I read the e-books I now have on my Kindle with no additional purchases or charges necessary 40 years from now (should I be lucky enough to live that long)

This is why it's not an issue for personal books but it's a huge issue for libraries. If a private person buys a book they might read it a dozen times and it will still be in pretty decent shape; you shouldn't have to replace a book unless it is extraordinarily well loved. If a library buys a high - demand book, it might get read to death within threeor four years. (Less for children's books, especially graphic novels.) So publishers are worried about losing out on replacement sales there.

They shouldn't be because only a very small percentage of library book purchases are actually replacements for lost and damaged books. The bestseller from 3 years ago, or the diet fad book from 3 years ago... The demand isn't there to justify replacing it. (We do spend a lot of money replacing a book like Holes by Louis Sachar, which seems to be assigned summer reading for just about everybody, and is a fragile children's paperback.)

Anyway, this is what concerns me about a digital library: the situation with libraries and e-books and publishers is still pretty unsettled and I don't want to end up in a situation where we can't anticipate how difficult or expensive it's going to be to maintain a large collection of e-books.
posted by Jeanne at 6:53 AM on October 7, 2013 [8 favorites]


I'm concerned about how this will work for people less comfortable with computers, and for those people who don't have an e-reading device so borrow one and find that it is lost/stolen/dropped. You can replace a library book for $20. Ereaders are not yet so cheap.

I say this as someone who has moved nearly all of my reading to an ereader and who whines because the books I do read in paper don't have self-lighting pages.
posted by jeather at 7:10 AM on October 7, 2013 [1 favorite]


I'm concerned about how this will work for people less comfortable with computers

I bet they staff this branch in particular with tech-savvy customer service people.

so borrow one and find that it is lost/stolen/dropped

And I bet they have some policies about this. And reading space in-house for people who don't want to leave the library with the expensive device.
posted by morganannie at 7:17 AM on October 7, 2013 [1 favorite]


That a public library is a physical place, and usually quite a nice one (carpets, chairs, plants, general atmosphere of quiet, orderly courtesy) is almost as important to the cultural practice of reading as its function as a circulating book repository--even if "book" comes to be understood as "any readable media."

Who it's important to as a place is, first and foremost, the kids who come to the public library when school is out because they need a safe place, and prefereably an attractive one, to wait in until their parents get home.

When you consider a public library as an attractive place, what you are seeing is many generations' cultural inheritance of what bookish people think of as a nice place to sit and read. Even if many or most of the young people who come to the library just to get out of the rain do not pick up something and read it I am entirely convinced that spending significant time most days in such a place, surrounded by reading material and by people obviously reading and enjoying it, cannot help but make it more likely that they themselves will become readers. For the ones who do, it's one of the very best things we can do for them. Even for the ones who do not I'll happily say it was a gamble worth taking.
posted by jfuller at 7:18 AM on October 7, 2013 [8 favorites]


I bet they staff this branch in particular with tech-savvy customer service people.

Helpful if the tech-uncomfortable people are willing to come in to the no-book library, not helpful if they just go to a different library.

And I bet they have some policies about this. And reading space in-house for people who don't want to leave the library with the expensive device.

I am sure they have policies. Checking the website, it suggests that if you break or lose an ereader, the policy is that you are solely responsible for paying for a replacement. And "well, you can sit in the library and read all you like as long as there are devices available" is great -- I love sitting in the library and reading -- but insufficient. I think a lot of this is fantastic, honestly. And I know that there are actual libraries in San Antonio also. But I think there are problems with a digital-only library that are going to make it harder on some of the people who need libraries most -- poor kids who can't bring home an ereader, elderly adults who don't want to learn a new tech, etc.

Anyways, I suppose we'll see how this goes in time.
posted by jeather at 7:35 AM on October 7, 2013 [2 favorites]


The word library comes from the word Libres, or in its original spelling GNULibre, meaning "open source eReader". Since there's DRM attached, I'm not sure you could really call it a library.
posted by blue_beetle at 7:37 AM on October 7, 2013 [4 favorites]


chavenet: "The "Library" we have now is the Internet. "

When I can find "Essays in Tektology: The General Science of Organization" in full form, online, let me know.
posted by symbioid at 7:41 AM on October 7, 2013 [3 favorites]


Further, when I can have the resources and skills that librarians provide, let me know. And the social meeting area, and the ability to lend out toys to poor people, and shelter for homeless people, and resources for those homeless people that don't have access to resources, etc, etc, etc... A library is more than just information, and even when it isn't, it's more than google.
posted by symbioid at 7:43 AM on October 7, 2013 [4 favorites]


Finally - our local library just revamped. Full service food, new open bright workspaces, nice kids area... But it still has books. I'm sad that it's bigger, yet has less space for books, but at least there are books, and there are plenty more, just in storage, so they can retrieve them, even if they're not on the shelves. Though browsing was always a favorite pasttime of mine as a child. A card catalog just isn't the same (and neither is a computer screen with searchable index). That said, I have been meaning to get a laptop and use the library as a place to go for quiet productivity and access to books for free. I think I'm done now.
posted by symbioid at 7:47 AM on October 7, 2013 [1 favorite]


Some of the things public librarians and library staff do, by Lauren Smith.
posted by Wordshore at 7:56 AM on October 7, 2013 [3 favorites]


Those are all very common design decisions, and a lot of public libraries are doing this kind of revamping these days.

Library collections seem to be more browsable when there are fewer books on the shelves. More room for face-out items and topical/seasonal displays, fewer books on tall shelves that kids can't reach without kickstools and floor-level shelves that are problematic for older adults and people with disabilities, etc., etc.
posted by box at 7:56 AM on October 7, 2013


I think the definition problems listed above hit the nail on the head.

The library where I live is used as a voting station, pseudo after school care (for the high school across the street), a place where the non-connected amongst us can check their email or even drop a physical letter to be sent by USPS. My SO used to go to a library just to get away from a physically abusive spouse.

So I'm glad that there is still a physical space dedicated to serving the community, regardless of the contents of the building.
posted by Blue_Villain at 7:57 AM on October 7, 2013 [3 favorites]


I go to the physical library about once a week. I have a bunch of books checked out right now. I also constantly borrow ebooks from the same library. Today, I paid a small annual charge to double my physical book borrowing allowance and was super-sad when the librarian explained it didn't apply to my ebook allowance (six at a time, six reservations in the queue but fortunately a nearly-endless wishlist option) as well.

I check for an ebook version first, then reserve the printed copy if it's not available. The only exception I've found so far is for kids' picturebooks of which 99% look lousy on an e-reader because they need to be precisely laid out.

This library sounds like an great alternative without the physical constraints of holding so many books. I would rather have this plus printed books, especially books for little children to spark a love of reading, but this is better than a print-only space without ebooks, devices and all the other library services.
posted by viggorlijah at 8:55 AM on October 7, 2013


The very first sentence I read about this "bookless" library is that it has 10,000 e-books. I think we are having some definition problems.

If by "we," you mean the whole of society, then sure. So far as I know, there is no commonly agreed-upon retronym for bound books on paper beyond books, which is what they have been known as for centuries. In general parlance, there are books and there are e-books, and this library contains no books.

It's as if they believe a library is some sort of . . . resource center . . . for public access . . . that holds more than just . . . books?

If it contains no books, it is disingenuous at best to say it contains "more than just books" when manifestly it has no books at all. By the same token, you could label an abandoned building with a family of raccoons living in it as a pet store that contains "more than just cats and dogs."
posted by ricochet biscuit at 10:00 AM on October 7, 2013 [2 favorites]


In general parlance, there are books and there are e-books, and this library contains no books.

However, an author whose "manuscript" exists only as digital files is unlikely to tell people he's almost finished a draft of his 'e-book.' 'Book' was used to refer to the text itself, divorced from any bound incarnation, long before the existence of e-books.
posted by straight at 10:41 AM on October 7, 2013


An e-book is a book, period. The formatting does not change the content.
posted by Quiplash at 10:56 AM on October 7, 2013


The library, built with $1.9 million in county tax money and $500,000 in private donations,

Hey now. Taxpayer money. For a library. In Texas?


Don't worry, most of that was wasted getting Apple computers instead of generic PCs.
posted by Malice at 11:10 AM on October 7, 2013


An e-book is a book, period.

Like an mp3 is to a album? No beautiful surface noise, crackles or pops?
posted by R. Mutt at 11:32 AM on October 7, 2013


Hey, you leave Proust's dinosaur erotica out of this.

As the T-Rex bit into Madeline (and her 11 friends in two straight lines) he began to remember his childhood.
posted by ActingTheGoat at 11:42 AM on October 7, 2013 [6 favorites]


The formatting does not change the content.

Of course it does. I'm no enemy of ebooks, but to say the medium for a text is insignficant is silly.
posted by aught at 11:58 AM on October 7, 2013 [2 favorites]


An e-book is a book, period. The formatting does not change the content.

Hmmm. Is a tablet a scroll? Is a scroll a codex? Each format encourages/allows some things and discourages/forbids others. It's likely that the many lost books of antiquity were lost more because of format changes and the non-preservation of the in-migrated than directly due to sacking and pillaging. So the text is the text doesn't take into account how format allows access and access inspires preservation (and preservation supports format to close the vicious cycle).
posted by GenjiandProust at 12:46 PM on October 7, 2013


Seems like we could use a different word for electronic-access community centers. Neither "Starbucks" nor "library" seems to fit this mission; it's quite clear that the "is it really a library?" question is a serious question, that the two institutions' missions and methods don't quite line up. As much as it's an indisputably useful public service to provide, staff, and maintain an EACC, it's also nowhere near as unreasonable as Wanenchak suggests to be concerned that the EACC mission is poaching on the mission of curating, collecting, and preserving access to a durable collection of physical texts. (It's a different argument if branch libraries are replaced by EACCs while their library systems continue to carry out the rest of their mission, though.)

And the way the defenders of total digitization favor the word "knowledge" in discussions like this in place of "books" or "texts" is beginning to seem pretty sinister to me:

If libraries are sites for the preservation and access of knowledge – literature and art and music most definitely included – then of course they’ll change as how we consume those things changes.

In places like this — or in the Wikipedia house usage, too — it seems like "knowledge" is really just serving as a more palatable, cultural-sounding synonym for "data": that is, it's a tacit premise here that the "knowledge" that libraries are for is already digitized, so the mission is to provide access to it. But this is far, far from the case; there are mountains of undigitized texts and recordings and so on, some already in libraries from long ago and more being produced every day. If libraries give up on preserving physical media, the world will lose a huge amount of its historical and cultural record.
posted by RogerB at 12:46 PM on October 7, 2013 [3 favorites]


Finally! Something parentally relevant to post on facebook!
posted by Mizu at 1:05 PM on October 7, 2013


symbioid: "chavenet: "The "Library" we have now is the Internet. "

When I can find "Essays in Tektology: The General Science of Organization" in full form, online, let me know.
"

Fortunately, this Library is both yours and mine. So instead of testing for contrafibularity, a better approach is, if you have a book that you think other people might benefit from being able to access, to contribute it to the library. Those with interesting books should share them. This will benefit everybody.
posted by chavenet at 1:06 PM on October 7, 2013


> In places like this — or in the Wikipedia house usage, too — it seems like "knowledge" is really just
> serving as a more palatable, cultural-sounding synonym for "data"

First come I. My name is J-w-tt.
There's no knowledge but I know it.
I am Master of this College,
What I don't know isn't knowledge.

posted by jfuller at 1:58 PM on October 7, 2013


really interesting post, thanks!
posted by maiamaia at 3:10 PM on October 7, 2013


Seems like we could use a different word for electronic-access community centers.

The problem with this is that even though it is eroding to some extent, there is still a strong tradition of support for libraries in the U.S., even among people who otherwise balk at paying taxes. I suspect many of these same taxpayers would absolutely freak out at the prospect of funding "community centers," even if they largely met the same purposes and served the same clientele.
posted by Wordwoman at 4:39 PM on October 7, 2013 [1 favorite]


It's, like, a 20 page essay though, so you'd better make it a "grande."

I know I know, not the same thing, I just couldn't resist
posted by ook at 7:31 AM on October 8, 2013


However, an author whose "manuscript" exists only as digital files is unlikely to tell people he's almost finished a draft of his 'e-book.' 'Book' was used to refer to the text itself, divorced from any bound incarnation, long before the existence of e-books.

Fascinating but irrelevant. Years ago I had a small role in an indie film production that stalled due to financial constraints. I am sure the screenwriter understood himself to be writing a movie, and it is more likely that I tell someone "I acted in a movie" (albeit an unreleased one) than, "I pretended to be a police detective while in costume in a room in the lower level of the Sony Centre in Toronto with some other people also pretended to be police or criminals as required while another group of other people stood behind a camera nearby and filmed us."

We refer to a movie, yet there is no movie. How can this be? As I said earlier, books still refers in general usage to the physical bound volume. Perhaps in the near future, we will have a retronym to refer to these to differentiate them from e-books. Today, though, I suspect that if you asked a hundred people to picture "a book," at least ninety-nine would imagine this and not this.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 8:27 AM on October 8, 2013


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