A groundbreaking paperless public library system will open in Texas this year, the BBC reports. Bexar County's $1.5-million BiblioTech project will open its first library branch without a single print book.
Instead, the BiblioTech library will have 100 e-readers for loan, and an initial selection of 10,000 digital titles. The library itself will have a host of computer stations where patrons can study, use the Internet, and learn computer skills.
Meanwhile, readers at home can check out e-books without leaving the couch. It's estimated that the library's services will reach about 1.7 million people in Bexar County, which includes San Antonio. The BiblioTech project is designed to supplement the existing city library system.
"Think of an Apple store," Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff, the man behind the project, told NPR when the plans were first announced in January. As Bexar told the BBC, Apple founder Steve Jobs was a big inspiration for the endeavor.
“We wanted to find a low-cost, effective way to bring reading and learning to the county and also focus on the change in the world of technology,” he told the San Antonio Express-News.
Bexar County's unincorporated regions are increasingly populated but underserved, according to Wolff. "While the city does a beautiful job in providing public libraries," said BiblioTech project coordinator Laura Cole, "these can only easily be used by people living there."
This isn't the region's first digital library. In 2010, the University of Texas-San Antonio opened one of the country's first digital-only academic libraries; it has been a success.
Other experiments in digital-only libraries -- in Newport Beach, Calif., and Tucson, Ariz. -- have not done as well. Both libraries wound up offering traditional print books for loan after public outcry.
While Wolff is hoping to move library lending into the digital age, he's not against print books; in fact, he collects rare first editions.