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Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Digital Library Does Not Mean Bookless by Guest Blogger, Ashley Eklöf, Head Librarian of BiblioTech, the first all-digital public library in the United States

About the Author:  

In 2013, Ashley Eklöf became the head librarian of BiblioTech, the first all-digital public library in the United States. It is located in  San Antonio, TX.

Hello all,

I'm actually the head librarian of BiblioTech, and I hope you'll bare with me as I offer a little insight into my work environment.

Working in a digital library ("bookless" in inaccurate) is anything but sterile. It's exciting! People are actively learning while others are sitting quietly with their e-readers or on computers. Children are playing and bonding with their parents and caregivers over books and technology. There is still plenty of book talk at the circulation desk and the catalog kiosks. Life carries on as it did in my years as a librarian at a print library. Our library is a part of the community like any other. The benefit of a digital library is the size. We are able to provide hundreds of thousands of digital items in areas of our country that until two years ago were "library deserts".

Our first branch is located on a side of Bexar County where 85% of the homes do not have internet. So we planted our library, with 48+ high end computers and community/study space within walking distance of 5 schools, a senior center, and on a bus line. We provide 800 devices for checkout that do not require internet, are open 7 days a week, and olffer programming for the entire family. All in 4,000 square feet. That's not even enough space for 10,000 books let alone the size of the collection that we have.

The next branch we opened is only 50 sq/ft and it is located in the Courthouse, in the room where 500 people pass through each week as they serve on Jury Duty. We have a captive audience who are often bored and in want of something to read. We have thousands of circulations from this group each month and many continue to use our resources after Jury Duty without needing to visit a full-service branch. Our next two locations are smack dab in the middle of affordable house developments, where we become neighbors to the families in need.

We are also partnering with 58 schools, suburban cities, military base libraries (we have several bases here), and the County Jail to provide library services. Our model is sizable and we go where the people are. eBooks are the best way to do this when you don't have a lot of funding for staff, weight-bearing buildings, or duplicate items for multiple branches. I'll be the first to say that I have faith in this model, and I'm blessed to see it in action every single day.

Digital libraries are not going to make print and hybrid libraries go extinct. I also don't think our patrons feel jipped by not having print books, especially when they are using high speed internet and new technology, receiving commercial grade customer service, one-on-one technology assistance as well as book advisory services. When they are able to find almost any book that they want (we have the new and high demand titles) and their children and teens don't want to leave when it's time to go, "just a few more minutes". We've also been successful tapping into a group of about 8 middle school boys at one of our branches, who regularly attend a book club where they take turns reading aloud. They're now on their 5th book.

And yes, librarians are needed in digital libraries just as they are needed in any library. Who else is trained to purchase books, subscribe to resources, answer reference question? Librarians; information gatekeepers.

I do want to be clear about something -- libraries are wonderful. Print, digital, hybrid, public, school, academic. They all provide access to information, strengthen communities, and provide a world of opportunity for the children who are fortunate to grow up going to the library. The digital library is never (or at least not for hundreds of years) going to replace the print library. eBooks are just another type of book. After all, the important part of the book is the content, right? The more ways that we can provide access to content the better. eBooks are great to read while traveling, and who doesn't love seeing their favorite books on shelves in their home.

The question that I have is why are digital collections and digital libraries so belittled by the library world?

I encourage your replies. Thank you.