EDINBURG, RGV – Hidalgo County Commissioner’s Court has announced the launch of an electronic library system for residents.

The aim of the e-Library system is to increase access to eBooks, audiobooks, comics and magazines through digital devices to residents in rural areas, and to improve the literacy rate in the county.

At a press conference was held at the Hidalgo County Courthouse last week, Hidalgo County Library System (HCLS) Secretary Arnoldo Becho said residents will be able to access over 20,000 electronic books and other literature.

“Hidalgo County’s electronic library is completely online. It’s a collection of audio books, eBooks, and comic books. It’s completely free, no one will ever pay a fine or lose a book,” Becho said.

“The electronic library has 20,000 electronic books, thousands of magazines and thousands of comic books. Eventually we hope to have most of the citizens of Hidalgo with access to the electronic library. We hope that most of our citizens will be walking around with the electronic library in their pockets every day.”

Hidalgo County Library System is a federated system of 13 Public Library members in Hidalgo County. It is supported with funds from Hidalgo County and strives to promote, coordinate and help provide full and free library services to all residents of Hidalgo County.

Hidalgo County is the eight largest County in Texas by population. Becho said he thinks the e-Library will rival electronic libraries in bigger metropolitan areas like Houston, Austin, and San Antonio. He said the new app will help.

“Created in an effort to combat illiteracy, the app will connect readers to a multitude of literary material, and improve the literacy level of readers of all ages by encouraging enhanced readership,” Becho said.

The Hidalgo County Commissioner’s Court approved the $400,000 investment in April 2017. It plans to contribute $70,000 for additional books and resources in the 2018 budget.

In an interview with the Rio Grande Guardian, Hidalgo County Commissioner Eddie Cantu said the e-Library investment would keep up with the advancement of the digital age, making it a worthy venture.

“You know, libraries are expensive. To build a brand-new library you’re talking about millions of dollars,” Cantu said. “In this case, we’re able to invest $400,000 just to start the e-Library. As you know a lot of people are reading books with different apparatuses, with Nook’s and iPad’s and stuff like that. Going to an e-Library is the way of the future, so it was a great concept, great idea, and for us to contribute $400,000 to me was really pennies on the dollars for the type of returns we’re going to get with this investment.”

Cantu said access to public libraries may not always be accessible to rural areas, but the e-Library will now be able to provide free books to those residents.

“What this allows us to do right now is all our libraries are basically city owned, so this will give us an opportunity to get the library and books out into the rural areas,” Cantu said. “Obviously the rural areas don’t have as much access to libraries, but this way they’ll have access to books.”

Some community resource centers will also provide computers, which are used frequently in libraries, and now the county will provide access to books, two essential resources in public libraries, Cantu said.

“Some of the precincts have community resources centers, so we have places where people can go in and use computers, which is what really one of the main things that libraries are used for nowadays besides books is computers,” Cantu said. “So the good thing is we have those areas, we have access to computers, now our people are going to have access to books.”

Editor’s Note: The first feature on Hidalgo County’s e-library project was penned by Rio Grande Guardian writer Patricia Fogarty. Click here to read the piece.

Editor’s Note: The main image accompanying this story shows Hidalgo County Library System Secretary Arnoldo Becho addressing Hidalgo County Commissioner’s Court.