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The bookless library – Is that the future of libraries?

Bookless LibrariesThe bookless library – Is that the future of libraries?


Whether the advent of eBooks heralds the end of print books or not, it certainly seems that it will lead to the demise of libraries as we know them. The bookless library is increasing a reality, staring in places meant to be the repository of knowledge, university libraries, and gaining ground outside academic grounds.

The New York Public Library is implementing its plan to move many of its books away from its main branch into offsite storage with 24-hour advance request required. Yet it is not the first library to do so. Opening the move was Kansas State University’s engineering school, which went bookless 12 years ago. The University of Texas at San Antonio ditched print for e-books and e-journals in 2010. Stanford University’s engineering school pruned 85 percent of its books last year. Drexel University opened a new library just last month with hardly a single print book – just rows and rows of computers. And Cornell recently announced a similar initiative.

From academic libraries, the trend is now spreading to public libraries. Before New York,  in order to successfully abide a budget crunch, the Balboa Branch library in Newport Beach, California, is implementing a plan to strip its original library of most of if not all its 35,000 books and a few librarians as well. The 50-year-old library will become a de facto community center — a place where citizens can gather, chat without fear of being shushed by a stern librarian, and surf the web. Yet, patrons really wanting a book can still get one. All they have to do is march up to a voice-activated electronic kiosk; speak with a librarian at one of the city’s three other branches; order it and wait by the library’s traditional fireplace for it to be dropped off at a locker on site, though it might be wiser to go home  and come back the next day.


According to a Broward County (FL.) library employee, the future of library holding physical books seems gloomy. Commenting on a post about bookless libraries, he points at the main reasons virtual libraries will increasingly replace print books libraries

“1 – Our budgets are not enough to purchase both dead tree books and eBooks. We choose to increase the number of eBook titles available to customers (as well as other digital resources) and those dollars come from the physical book/item collection. This includes fewer CDs (Freegal replaces) and potentially DVDs soon.

2 – Staffing budgets are down everywhere. In Broward County Library our virtual reference and digital resources are staffed by two people. Just to process new physical materials it takes four people. It is not hard to see where the trend is heading.

Will there be physical books in libraries? Yes for the foreseeable future. But they will be more for older or poorer customers who do not have access any other way to old materials. New materials will not be available in the end.

Right now we do more than 60% of all circulation is Audio Visual materials (DVD, CD, etc) and customers using the physical building more for the computer access or bringing their own laptops in to access WiFi etc.

Less than 60% of all customers walking into the building actually check something out, and as above less than 40% of that is a physical book. “

And since money is still what rules the world, whether we like it of not, bookless libraries are what the future holds for the majority of us who are not scholars interested in checking watermarks and other specialized particularities of print books.

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2 Responses to "The bookless library – Is that the future of libraries?"

  1. Jennie Stoltz says:

    It is frankly logical for academic libraries to go completely virtual or digital since the majority of the books at these libraries are for educational and not recreational purposes but we are a long way off from seeing “book-less” public libraries. (By the way, bookless is a complete misnomer, digital books are still BOOKS). You cite a few specific cases of libraries that are opting to dramatically reduce or eliminate print books but did not mention that in the case of the NY Public Library there has been a huge public outcry over this action. In regards to the Newport Beach branch library that is having all the books removed, that is actually not a library going bookless, that is converting a library branch to a community/computer center that will simply have book delivery service. No longer will that be considered a library. And the last case included here for why public libraries are going “bookless” – the unnamed librarian who refers to print books as “dead tree books”, um, not really thinking that individual doesn’t have a bias.

  2. As someone who volunteers for the local branch library, I’d have to say I shelve more kids’ books than anything else. Until they can render these to have the same experience on an electronic device (and everyone can afford to have these in order to read to their kids), I don’t see traditional library books going away.

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