Bexar County, TX
Classical in the car, and anything by Elvis Costello, esp. King of America.
Bexar County (pop. 1.7 million) didn’t have its own library system until recently, cooperating with the city of San Antonio’s. But with an exploding population, and citizens seeking lower-cost housing moving farther away from branch libraries, the county needed a new way to reach residents who wanted to read.
Four years ago, Bexar County decided to build a digital library on the Cloud, an initiative they called BiblioTech. They also decided they needed physical locations, primarily for residents within a three-mile radius who don’t have wi-fi. (Space is needed for study rooms, GED testing, children’s activities, community meetings, and e-readers that patrons can check out.) The county’s first and largest digital library is 4,800 square feet, about a third of the space of a traditional library.
BiblioTech also partnered with the local housing authority to co-locate a 2,100 square foot library in a low-income housing development. A third branch will open this fall in a new public housing in a federal Promise Neighborhood.
The team has capitalized on the scalability of a digital library. A satellite branch was opened in the central jury room of the courthouse where roughly 400 visitors come each day, often sitting around for many hours. Now, when jurors receive their summons, they get a notification about BiblioTech access and how to sign in.
BiblioTech also partnered with the local transit authority, which has wi-fi on its buses, to create a ride-and-read program, including six kiosks in transit stations where you can download material. Six more kiosks are being added in the fall.
The total operating budget for BiblioTech, which has 113,000 registered patrons, is $3 million. Laura and her team started with 10,000 e-books and have been adding 10,000 titles each year. In contrast, a traditional branch library warehouses 40,000 to 50,000 books.
Since BiblioTech opened, digital technology has become cheaper, and adaptive technology has made it more accessible to seniors, the visually-impaired, even inmates in jail. But technology also brings added responsibility. Example: If wi-fi goes down in a brick and mortar library, it’s not a big problem. For a digital library, no wi-fi means no service.
Born in Minnesota, she started her career in county government in Hillsboro, Oregon in 2003. Five years later, she moved to San Antonio where she got a job for Bexar County, working on contracts, including library services. She was tasked with developing BiblioTech in 2012 and then went back and got her master’s in library science (Texas Woman’s Univ. ‘16). Hobbies include running, reading, and vegetarian cooking (favorite dish: red curry).
Undergrad degree in theater (Viterbo ‘84), where she was a performer. Laura tells us never to discount the value of theatre training. Being entertaining is particularly helpful when making presentations to large crowds in a political environment, she says.