I have been reading a number of articles lately on the decision by Bexar County (Texas) to open a public library with only digital editions of their content. They will have lots of e-readers that patrons can borrow, along with laptops and tablets in the library.
My take on the articles: Keep in mind that Bexar County, Texas, doesn't have a county library system. This is an effort to provide library services to residents in unincorporated areas. That is A Good Thing.
On the other hand, it appears that the library will not be staffed by professional librarians, which is an alarming move. And the cost for library versions of digital books is often significantly higher than for the print edition; the Douglas County (Colorado) library system tracks the disparity in pricing of the top 25 e-book best sellers between print and e-books, as well as the premium that libraries pay for library versions of e-books. And we're not talking chump change here... Libraries pay $24.99 for an e-copy of The Time Keeper, whereas consumers can buy the same digital book for $9.50. And A Wanted Man? $84 for a library edition, and 12.99 for consumers.The other limitation of digital libraries, of course, is that not everything is available in digital format, including a number of bestsellers. And I just can't imagine reading Pat the Bunny to a child on an e-reader...
(And I must mention the Aloha Community Library, a volunteer storefront library in a suburb of Portland, Oregon, as another way that a community without a public library can create one. Full disclosure: my sister Amy Grant is one of the board members. A very small library can still have books.)
That said, if a county has $1 million to spend on library services, and it wants to address the digital divide, this is one step. Today, children are spending their afternoons in McDonald's because they don't have highspeed Internet access at home. Offering them a place where there are lots of computers and lots of resources can't be a bad thing. Were the location staffed with information professionals, who could assist patrons in research as well as direct them to the more in-depth resources available at the San Antonio City Library, I would feel a lot happier about the initiative.