Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Comfy Libraries

A kind reader sent me this story from the Baltimore Sun. You may have already heard, but the Inner Harbor Barnes & Noble is removing lots of their comfy furniture, because they've suddenly discovered that people like to sit in their overstuffed chairs, read books, and leave a big mess without buying anything, and that's when the teenagers aren't doing even more inappropriate things on the sofas. If I were a librarian, I'd feel betrayed. I mean, here we've been told for years that libraries should be more inviting, like profitable bookstores are, and now this bookstore is becoming less inviting to remain profitable. I'm not sure where that leaves libraries.

I was especially struck by a quote in the article about the purpose of libraries. At one point, adult education people used to talk about the public library as "everyman's university," as a former ALA president put it decades ago. Now, as we know, the public library has to a large extent become a public entertainment center. But an interior designer who worked on one of the Baltimore area libraries wants to do better than both of those. A university is so serious and studious, and an entertainment center so low-brow. Instead, he believes a "public library should be every man's country club."

So it's time to get rid of most of those books and computers, put in a pool and a tennis court, and maybe a golf course as well. Add a cozy bar and a decent restaurant and a room to host weddings, and libraries could be well on their way to such a goal. They may not help people find information or good porn, but I bet these new public "library" country clubs would probably be a lot more popular than these boring old libraries we have now. And, after all, isn't the goal to get people using libraries by being all things to all people?

20 comments:

David, Library Tech. up. North said...

Just what we need: a bunch of fat old men, complete with stogie and whiskey, falling asleep under their newspapers. Wait, aren't those the crazies now in the newspaper department. Well, plus sa change, I always say.

Anonymous said...

AL:

You've had two posts this week, and you've failed to address the real news of the week...Van Halen is back...

Anonymous said...

AL:

I don't know if you were joking about weddings in libraries, but the idea IS already out there. The snippet below was pasted the newsletter of a large academic library in the midwest. Details about the university have been removed, but I will say a famous alumnus is a long time late night host on CBS.

"____ Library, located at the heart of _____’s campus, provides space for a variety of occasions such as meetings, conferences, receptions, seminars/workshops, presentations, musical performances, readings, video conferencing, and even
small weddings...............
____ Forum Room is an attractive space that accommodates up to 90 persons, and it allows
for a wide range of food and beverage options through University Banquet and Catering.
___ Library's main floor is beautifully tiled and perfect for a small wedding ceremony and dance
floor. The area is easy to decorate and the impressive ____ _____ makes for a dramatic entrance by the bride. Ceremonial
events such as this, would be best scheduled for Friday and Saturday evenings when ____ closes early.
Convenient parking is available at the ____ parking structure, which is located behind ____ Library."

Sarah said...

I went to a library conference last month, and one of the presenters talked about how libraries of the future will need to partner with museums and amusement parks to create "information experiences" in order to stay relevant.

That's right folks--go to the library, ride the roller coaster, and walk through a life size recreation of an ancient Egyptian tomb! (Make sure not to miss the stuffed mammal room on your way out.) Why not add country club features as well?

Anonymous said...

"That's right folks--go to the library, ride the roller coaster, and walk through a life size recreation of an ancient Egyptian tomb!"

And please don't forget to stop by the gift shop, where we sell t-shirts, mugs, and stationary decrying the evils of capitalism and corporate America, all at an outrageous mark up!

Anonymous said...

Perhaps related to this is the issue of odd things some libraries loan. When I was in Library school I remember an instructor bringing in an article about local branch libraries in a city system (NY?) where patrons could borrow power tools and toys (including riding toys). I was curious to see if this is still done and whether the practice had spread.
I found this list (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tool-lending_Libraries) of libraries by state which loan tools. If you google "library loans toys" you can find a number of libraries which do this, too.

Anonymous said...

Yes, but do they loan tools that ARE toys?

Here's one way I could see this turning out:

"Hi! Welcome to the Greater Lickspit Community Valley Rec Center and Information Awareness Complex. Tanning salons are aisle 12, swimming pool in the veranda, adult entertainment in the over 21 area, and yoga classes are in the courtyard. Guests for the Liebowitz wedding are gathering at conference room 12--there's a 4 for 1 special on photos, and today's literary special is Nieztsche. Here's your book, enjoy!"

But after reading the latest depressing job postings with requirements hardly anyone can meet and at a pay 1/2 what the job is worth, here's what's more likely to happen:

"Hi, Welcome to the Lickspit Rec Center. Here's a brochure for you.....Who? The woman in the Che Guevara t-shirt? That's Phyllis, the Metadata Informantics and Research Awareness Coordinator. She'd say hi also but she's too busy working on her Outreach Services blog."

Dances With Books said...

I saw that and laughed, the library as the everyman's country club. You are right, we may as well put in the golf course and the pool. However, as I understand it, aren't country clubs supposed to be selective? I mean, part of the point of being in one is to have the prestige that goes with that? Can a library (public or any other) have that cachet?

The seating thing is not surprising at all. Those of us with common sense saw that coming the moment the bookstores suggested it. Of course if you offer soft chairs people will lounge there and not buy anything. Sure, there are some who do buy, but let's be honest, how many more simply lounge (or do worse as pointed in the article)? In my case, all I had to do was look at my local big box bookstore to confirm it. Fortunately, the one in my area does not seem as bad as some other places in terms of wandering bums and teen lovers (yet), but you get the idea. In essence, I could have told the stores the same thing without all the expense for consultants.

Kind Reader said...

I knew you'd understand.

Anonymous said...

Stinky homeless people falling asleep in comphy chairs!? No way! Yea, Anywho, reminds me of one our homeless guys who like to bathe in the sink before he falls asleep on our comphy chairs. At first we were all wanting to stop him from bathing in the sink,,, then we really started to think about it. What is worse? Stinky homeless people pewing up our fancy furniture or sweet smelling homeless people (if you like the smell of handsoap...which I do... especially the pink kind) sleeping in the furniture? Sure seeing a 90% naked man bathing in the sink can be startling, but no more so then the stench of urine wafting up upon you after you sit down in a chair previously occupied by a sink-impaired homeless individual.

lol... I digress...

Brent said...

I appreciate AL's elitism by wanting books in a library.

Comfy furniture is OK in a lobby area, I think. I prefer hiding or quiet spots in libraries to read (preferably the 4th floor), not comfy furniture.

brian said...

Sarah, who was talking about "information experiences"-- I'd like to speak with them, please email me brianmathews@gmail.com

ps: Do libraries still provide books? That’s so quaint.

Anonymous said...

The bar will need top notch martinis for AL and great red cabs for me.

AL said...

It will definitely need some great martinis, and preferably a nice view to go with them.

Anonymous said...

I was just about to email that article to you! I'm pissed someone beat me.

I must confess that I have been trying to get a cafe into my library for the past 6 months. I think it would do really well and the staff could get coffee discounts. We let patrons eat and drink in the building - why not make money off of them, bring in more of a crowd to attend programs, and get a cheaper caffeine buzz at the same time.

However, I want easy-to-clean, somewhat uncomfy chairs to prevent lingering. We have handled the drunken homeless problem for now but I don't want it to come back.

I also have a librarian who regularly works in a Che Guevera t-shirt.

Anonymous said...

I remember when I was in library school (about 10 years ago) there was an article about how Barnes and Noble was becoming the de facto library for students, because they could loll around in the comfy chairs, read the books without paying for them, and slurp down a nice frappucino at the same time. Who wanted to go to a boring old library where the librarians won't let you eat, drink or lie on the furniture? If I remember correctly, the article suggested that libraries could learn a thing or two from B&N. HA! Glad it's come back to bite them in the ass.

Anonymous said...

I am so thankful that my library does not have a cafe. I can just imagine the mess our feral patrons would leave.

Anonymous said...

I think NC State now has gaming in their library.

bookishme said...

Geez, you mean people were actually READING in the bookstore for free because it's such a comfy place to do it in, and so the bookstore went broke because it's not a library, where people are MEANT to read a lot for free, but can't find a comfy chair to do it in and so librarians complain no one likes to READ anymore...? What is wrong with this picture???

j- said...

*I also have a librarian who regularly works in a Che Guevera t-shirt. *

Hey, why not a Rudolf Hess shirt? Or a Pol Pot shirt? Were those murderers just too professional?