By now we’ve probably all heard of Florida Polytechnic University’s Bookless Library. Florida State University’s latest campus hopes to form part of a new Silicon Valley East between Tampa and Orlando by producing a new generation of highly educated STEM graduates. Part of the plan is to immerse students in an environment laden with the latest technological trends, and this includes a Library with no physical books.

The 11,000 Square foot Library is staffed by a six person team, including a Director of Libraries, two additional full-time librarians and 3 part time faculty members. The Library’s collection began with 135,000 licensed eBooks and plans to grow through a patron-driven acquisition program. Books not owned by the Library may be viewed once for free by a patron, upon the second viewing the book is purchased automatically for the Library from its $60,000 acquisition budget. Patrons also have access to over 65 databases of academic journals.

News of this Bookless Library has been met with what seems an equal amount of enthusiastic cheers and disdainful eye-rolling, but the ‘Bookless Library question’ really is nothing new.

Did anyone ever have to argue with a Library Board on whether there was a place for books on tape, or VHS cassettes in a Library? Later this was Books on CD and DVD’s. Graphic Novels and Manga probably came up at one point too. What about public computers? Or Internet access? It’s all the same discussion that’s been going on for, at this point, decades and there have always been people with legitimate arguments on both sides.

I’m not really interested in discussing whether a Bookless Library is a good or a bad thing. To me the much more interesting question is where this discussion stems from, and the answer to that really depends on what we believe the role of a Library is.

When deciding to write on this topic I wanted to avoid the sort of ‘It’s happening, deal with it’ conclusion typical of these articles. I just think when the topic of technology comes up we should stop and think what the purpose of a Library is and whether new technology can play a part in it.

Personally I believe that the role of a Library is to facilitate open access to informational and educational resources. For centuries, even before the printing press, the best way to do this was by storing physical, written text. Maybe that’s not changing, maybe it is. My guess is it’s probably not even so black and white as that.

The question is not ‘is it a Library if it has no books?’ It’s simply ‘is it a Library?’