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Bookless Library In Texas Aims To 'Break Down The Barriers To Reading'


This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon. San Antonio's newest library doesn't look very bookish. It's got neon orange walls, a play area for children that has glowing screens, and it abounds with desktop computers, iPads, eBooks and laptops. They call it BiblioTech because it's completely digital. There is no paper in this library.

Judge Nelson Wolff of Bexar County spearheaded the initiative. He's also the former mayor of San Antonio. He joins us from the studios of KSTX, our member station there. Thanks so much for being with us, your Honor.


SIMON: So what's the idea?

TEXAS: Well, a couple of things gave rise to this. One was trying to bring library services to the citizen at a competitive price. Second idea was to break down the barriers to reading, with the eBooks that we have and without having to physically come to the library. And then it was to bring technology to a area of the city that is economic disadvantaged, highly minority, and do not have access to the Internet and the various modes that we have to access it. So we provide eBook readers that they can check out.

And we also provide iPads and laptops that they can use within the facility.

SIMON: What are your hopes?

TEXAS: Well, what I hope will happen, and I think we're already beginning to see it here, the San Antonio Public Library is a great library system. In fact, when I was mayor of the city, I built the 250,000 square foot central library that they have today, but it's a very expensive proposition. I think public libraries all across the nation are finding a very difficult time as more and more people turn to eBooks.

Some public libraries have made steps and have increased their technology, but they only spend about 5 percent of their annual budgets on technology, far below what they need to be doing. And although I was one that resisted reading eBooks because I'm a collector of modern first editions - I probably have about 1,500 in my home, so I resisted it for a long time, but the world's changed.

We chose this format. It's not necessarily the right format for everybody, but it's one that will reach and satisfy the vast majority of people. Not all of them, because we don't have the physical book.

SIMON: You allowed that you are a book collector, right?


SIMON: So, as I don't have to tell you, your Honor, there's got to be room for this technology, but as I don't have to tell you, there are a lot of books that are just not available as eBooks and they are certainly still worth reading.

TEXAS: You're exactly right. And we're not fulfilling that role. We know we're not. So, yes, libraries ought to be able to have the ability to stock the hard copy book when they don't have the eBook, but I would think, as a general rule, that what public libraries are going to have to look at, if they've got the eBook, they don't need the hard copy book.

For instance, one of the, I think Dan Brown's latest book, I believe our library system has 140 copies of it distributed to 26 different sites. If you got the eBook, you don't need to distribute it, you don't need to stock them, I don't have to have all the room for it, I don't have to have a three-times the size building that I have, and I'm not going to lose it and it's not going to wear out.

So there are trade-offs.

SIMON: Judge Nelson Wolff of Bexar County in San Antonio, Texas at our station there, KSTX. Thanks very much for being with us, your Honor.

TEXAS: Enjoyed it. Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.