Facing the likelihood of state budget cuts that would eliminate $15 million for library and reading programs -- and, apparently, a future in which people no longer read things on paper -- the city of Newport Beach is considering turning its first library into a community center that would host all the same amenities... except for the books. Reports the Los Angeles Times:
Instead of a reference librarian, patrons would be greeted by a kiosk equipped with video-calling software that would allow them to speak with employees elsewhere. And books -- when ordered -- would be dropped off at a locker for pickup...
"A lot of people still want to touch a book, hold a book, smell it," said Cynthia Cowell, library services director for the Newport Beach Public Library. "The sensory experience is still very important to many of us."
[City Manager Dave Kiff] proposed in an email: "Shouldn't the modern library reflect what people are doing now, instead of reflecting what we might have done 20 or 30 years ago?"
In recent years, engineering libraries in particular have seen their collections go paperless. In San Antonio, the University of Texas's new engineering and technology library offers access to 425,000 e-books and 18,000 e-journal subscriptions, but no stacks, while Stanford University's new Engineering Library opened in August with about a quarter of the 80,000 books it had before.
But foisting the Amazon/Netflix model onto a community library can be a dicier proposition. Since their collections tend to be tailored to the places in which they reside, a professor of information science at UCLA tells the Times, these libraries, and the experience of discovering a book in their stacks, can play a vital role in the community.
Seeking to quell the inevitable firestorm from book lovers ("fucking insane," one librarian told me), the Newport Beach library system has sought to stem "misinformation" about going bookless on its website, claiming that the LA Times piece didn't include all the details. But the blog post, titled "Newport Beach Loves Books," confirms that the city's Balboa branch -- which "accounts for about six percent of the 1.3 million visitors that utilize Newport Beach Public Libraries each year" -- is underutilized and "could be changed to better fit the community's needs."
The branch might not house stacks of books (it still could -- we're still reviewing our options), but library patrons could "order" books from the large Central Library (located about four miles away) and have them delivered to Marina Park the next day. This branch could be construed as a "digital library," but the Newport Beach Public Library system would have plenty of books and other printed materials readily available for borrowing.The library -- which was recently awarded a four-star rating in the Hennen Guide to Libraries -- tucks this curt, passionless defense of the future into its statement: "It should be no surprise that technology is changing libraries the way that it has affected just about every other business and service in the world."
Bolstering the plan is an analysis conducted by officials in Newport Beach that found that most people visited library branches to study, to plug their laptops into work spaces or to use computers with Internet connections. So goes technological change: people are not searching the stacks anymore anyway -- and in the future, they may not be able to either.
Read more about the future of libraries -- and other strange techno-cultural adventures -- at Motherboard.
Follow Alex Pasternack on Twitter: www.twitter.com/pasternack