A Library Without Books

San Antonio, Texas blazes a trail as stacks disappear and screens burn brightly across America

In 2002, Arizona's Tucson-Pima public library system opened a branch without books, the first in the U.S. to attempt an all-digital existence. But just a few years later, the library phased in printed materials. Patrons demanded them. "I don't think people could really envision a library without any books in it," says Susan Husband, the Santa Rosa Branch manager.

The bookless library may have been ahead of its time a decade ago. Back then, libraries still had one overriding mission: lending books. There were no Kindles, no Nooks, no iPads. The few e-books that existed weren't held by public libraries and...

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