NewportBeachLibrarylogoRelated to yesterday’s story about whether libraries could be replaced by e-book readers comes a story that one California public library branch is considering doing away with all of its books. The LA Times reports that, as California faces $15 million in library budget cuts, one branch of the Newport Beach library system might remove all its books (though books could be requested remotely to be delivered for checkout the next day) while continuing to provide all its other services as a “community center”.

In Newport Beach, which has four city libraries, officials analyzed how patrons use them. Most visit the branches to study, to plug their laptops into work spaces or to use computers with Internet connections.

Few, however, actually pulled books from the shelves.

The Motherboard blog follows up, pointing out the library system’s response to the inevitable firestorm provoked by the LA Times article. The library points out that the Balboa branch only accounts for 6% of the overall usage of the 4-library system, and was thinking of moving the facilities out of their current 82-year-old building and into a new community center. The people who do use the branch use it for a lot more than just books

Thus, the concept of a study center with computers, Wi-Fi, study tables, comfy chairs, and DVD and CD loans began to develop. 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

Certainly modern libraries do a lot more than just books. And given how much library book collections can cost to maintain, and how much usage patterns are shifting toward other media, it’s not surprising that some libraries might be considering doing away with books altogether at some of their locations. (Found via Slashdot.)

My own Springfield Missouri library system has a small satellite branch located on the historic downtown Park Central Square. It doesn’t have more than one or two traditional “shelves”—mostly just racks lining the walls with individual books faced out—and I don’t think it has more than a few hundred books altogether, but it does have a dozen computer workstations, wifi, and plenty of comfortable chairs. It’s also only a few hundred feet from the downtown terminal where all the bus routes intersect, which makes it a very convenient place to request books be sent via the web for later pickup.

As e-books become more common and paper books less used, I wouldn’t be surprised to see more libraries moving this direction in the future.