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A Library Without Books? Newport Beach Considers Going Electronic

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The Newport Beach Public Library could boldly go where most libraries have yet dared not go: Book-less. They are considering relocating the Balboa Branch to a section of the Marina Park Community Center, but leaving out the 35,000 items--comprised of books, DVDs, and other materials--and offering a librarian-free "electronic library" instead, according to the Daily Pilot.

The move will allow the library system to save money while still providing locals with the services they most use the branch for. The new information age outpost "would have a 2,200-square-foot 'Internet library' room with a central fireplace and a kiosk where patrons could order books to borrow using an online system."

Need info, or to order an actual, tangible book? No problem. Library patrons can use the online reservation system either at the new "branch" or from any internet connection to request a hold on an item, which will then be left in an individual locker for retrieval at Marina Park's facility. The kiosk at that new "branch" would also be set up with "video-calling software, similar to Skype," so that users "could speak face-to-(projected) face with a reference librarian who could help answer research questions and point them toward the right online resources."

For those who believe there is no research like good old fashioned book research, especially for students, in September 2010, the NY Times reported on the Applied Engineering and Technology Library at the University of Texas at San Antonio, which houses a total of zero physical books. The facility's "collection of 425,000 volumes and 18,000 journal articles is available only online."

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The school's Dean of Libraries, Krisellen Maloney noted that "books are not the only reason people go to libraries, and that, in addition to studying, students go “for the services — to consult, get instruction, find content and use the content.” But would you be content to get your content at a book-free library?

With many cities in SoCal facing budget strains, Newport's move could signal a new era in how libraries are run, and challenge the belief that books make the library. While saving money but not compromising access to information, a safe physical space to be in, and the internet--the chief reasons for many to visit libraries in recent year--the "Internet Library" room could be the Library of the future.