Future Tense

Austrian Town Turns Itself Into Virtual Library

virtual public library
Stickers outfitted with NFC tags let you download classic ebooks that are relevant to local landmarks.

Image courtesy of Project Ingeborg

The Austrian city of Klagenfurt lacked a main public library. So it turned itself into one.

An initiative called Project Ingeborg has placed 70 stickers equipped with QR codes and NFC chips in various locations around the town, Engadget reports. When you hold your smartphone up to one, it sends your browser to a website where you can download a free literary classic via Project Gutenberg or a similar public-domain service.

Here’s the cool part: In many cases, the book is relevant to the location where you can download it. So, according to the Project Ingeborg website, you can download a famous play about a man’s quest for salvation near the Cathedral, or a short story called “The Murderer” near the police station. And there are plans to expand the project beyond books, to include reference information, music, and works of art.


The goal, the website says, is twofold: to highlight a new use for NFC technology, and to call attention to what it calls “anachronistic” copyright laws that keep books out of the public domain for 70 years.

The project’s creators are right that most NFC technology so far “lacks a concrete benefit for the end user,” and Project Ingeborg is a great example of how that could change. While the aim of promoting works in the public domain is admirable, I’m guessing this way of using the technology will end up having plenty of private-sector applications too. At best, it seems like it could result in something like Google Glass without the glasses—if these stickers were smartly applied all around your city, you could hold your smartphone up to any landmark or business and instantly learn about it, without having to walk around looking like an evil cyborg dweeb.