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?