Annoyed Librarian
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Please, No Starbucks in Every Library

Before I begin, I just want to point out that if you can’t find a librarian job paying $142,000 a year that will then allow you go take classes at a library school to find out how libraries work, then you just don’t know the right people. Best entry-level librarian job ever.

Okay, on to Starbucks. Since in my last post I recommended putting cafes in libraries to give people a space to do what they’re going to do anyway without annoying other people, it might seem odd that I find this argument kind of dumb.

Some guy writing for Forbes wants a Starbucks in every library. There are plenty of reasons this is a bad idea.

For one, lots of people hate Starbucks’ coffee. I’m not one of them, because I like my coffee to have a certain burnt viscosity about it, but some people object to that.

For another, most public libraries probably don’t have the space to rent to a Starbucks. And yes, that’s part of the argument, that libraries can make money by renting space. Unless they’re going to build new space, which would cost money, which wouldn’t save anyone anything.

For yet another, if you prefer Starbucks to a library, there’s a very easy choice to make. Go to Starbucks. This, it seems, isn’t the preferred option for some people.

The reasons for are pretty weak.

The reason? Starbucks offers a more pleasant and less restrictive environment than my library.

At Starbucks I can use my laptop to browse over newspapers and journals, enjoy a cup of coffee under the sounds of new age music and use my mobile phone. I can chat with other patrons. I can download my favorite e-books.

You know what? Those are all great things to do, except for having to listen to new age music. That sucks. And it’s super that Starbucks offers that.

But if Starbucks offers all that, and you like it, then what’s the problem with just going to Starbucks?

We could also add that people can use their laptops and download ebooks at libraries. That’s pretty standard stuff these days. At some you can even get coffee. Except for the occasional ridiculous number of signs, libraries aren’t that restrictive. Of course, “restrictive” here means not wanting you to bother other people. How awful!

Adding in mood music and people yapping on their phones and having lots of conversations in the library wouldn’t improve libraries. Libraries are one of the few public places people can go to get away from the noisy distractions that plague the rest of society.

If some people can’t read without stopping to chat or make phone calls every few minutes or listening to bad music, they have the entire rest of the world ready to distract them.

He quotes a recent NYT article about how libraries are changing, allowing spaces for food and conversation, which is great as long as they still have spaces for silence and concentration.

Supposedly, though, “Still, local libraries have long way to go before they can compete with Starbucks. But why compete? Why not partner?”

Since when have libraries been trying to compete with Starbucks? And why Starbucks? Why not Tully’s or Peet’s?

Whence comes the notion that libraries are competing with anything? They’re competing for attention, but that might be about it.

This reminds me of all the rapturous discussions a few years ago about how libraries should be competing with Barnes & Noble. Barnes & Noble has been taking a lot of hits in the last few years, while libraries are still plugging along, because libraries aren’t competing with bookstores.

You might think they are, since both are offering books. If that was true, though, everyone would be going to libraries and nobody would be buying books, because if that’s the only competition, free is always better. But people are buying books, so it must be something else.

Theoretically, libraries in general are trying to be all things to all people to get people through the doors. Practically, they’re doing specific things in specific places to respond to specific community needs. They’re not all becoming maker spaces or offering cake pans.

And hopefully they won’t take away quiet spaces to make room for Starbucks. If I want Starbucks, I can go to Starbucks. If I want a quiet public space, where else is left to go but the library?

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Comments

  1. DavidNC says:

    Caffeine is a pretty terrific learning drug, though. If we can provide it, we should.

  2. Andrew says:

    They used to offer free coffee at the library I worked at!

    But they got rid of it when they realized that people were walking in with their cups, filling up on the free stuff, and walking right out. It quickly deflated the grand enshrined-in-the-mission-plan visions of patrons quietly sipping coffee whilst catching up on the latest Janet Evanovich or James Patterson.

  3. Amanda says:

    Another article about libraries written by someone who has zero understanding of libraries? Cue the shock and surprise!

    He probably wrote that article at Starbucks and was too distracted by the noise to realize he was writing something stupid.

  4. Will says:

    First: Does this guy seem to be their Starbucks columnist? The neverending scroll of his articles has a whole lot of Starbucks in it. Maybe he just likes them; maybe Forbes actually employs someone just to cover Starbucks.
    Second: He might be right. Not because of anything insightful in the article–not hardly. But there *is* a related phenomenon among libraries that tried to open their own coffee shops in the last decade or so: the vacant cafe space that is perpetually looking for some new sucker to rent it. Starbucks’ dedicated following and near-universal brand recognition could go a long way toward making those spaces actually viable coffee shops instead of something that seemed like a good idea at the time, and even lure in that most elusive of creatures: the teen library patron.

  5. me says:

    Change it to Dunkin Donuts and I’m in.

    • Me! says:

      No way, their coffee sucks and if you ask for cream you get coffee flavored milk.

      However, if we could get their donuts and Starbucks coffee we might have something.

  6. We operated a cafe at one of our branches years ago. It opened to much fan fare, but interest in it eventually fizzled.

  7. Me! says:

    Put a Starbucks in a library and make it pay rent. It will be like having Borders back and we will no longer have to deal with that pretentious Barnes & Nobles anymore.

  8. c says:

    I used to work in a library with a Starbucks renting part of the first floor. It actually worked well, patrons often would stop in the library and then grab a cup of coffee and read in the cafe… Bot saying ot would work for all libraries but it worked for that one

  9. Gemma says:

    Love the opening comment, AL. I took biology in college, and I’ve been to the doctor a lot. I think I would like to be Chief of Staff at the local regional medical center. I’ll even take chemistry…if my new employer will pay for it

    That’s how we roll in California.

  10. T.S. says:

    I prefer traditional library – clean, quiet, filled with books, a place that allows you to think and reflect, satisfies your interllectual needs rather than any other which can be numerous but not related. And I know for sure that I am not the only one feeling this nostalgia for good old traditional library. All these recent changing in the libraries – in order to compete ?? for attention?? A lot of people who would love to come to the library do not now only because libraries have become what they are today – noisy, “kid-infested” ( I do not hate children, but that is what is looks like when library becomes a “free day care” ), filled with whatever but good books, filled with the cheep crap low end books which anybody hardly can call literature at all, plus messed up with food stains and so on. “You build it, and they will come”, – so you get the people to come to the places called library now, but do they really come to the library?? They come to the entertainment center, free day care place, air-conditioned place, whatever – but not to the library anymore!.. The libraries have changed so much lately, they honestly they can hardly even qualify to be called libraries anymore.

    • tom says:

      I don’t think there would BE libraries if they remained the way you suggest. However, I think a hybrid could be maintained, where they have at the very least a soundproof quiet section built into every library….

    • Library Observer says:

      Unfortunately T.S. is one of the silent majority, who have either voted with their feet or are about to. I fully agree with his/her final sentence about libraries being unrecognizable from years ago.

      My public library system has close to 25 branches and T.S. has described much of what is going on in the majority of them — except he has left out the mentally ill and homeless (which sometimes are the same). If someone is, to be un-PC, just a little bit dim — that’s ok as long as they are not bothering anybody else. However when the challenged’s handlers/aides decide to bring people who are totally disruptive to anyone within earshot I think the Staff should have the right to ask them to leave and/or ban them from the premises! As for the homeless — the library is not a hostel, motel, park, or any other place to sleep.

      My Grandchildren now refuse to go to the library because quite bluntly they are freaked out by the tantrums thrown by the Mentally Challenged — including one that I witnessed that took over 15 minutes and included rolling around on the floor and going to over one desk and smashing two now ex-patrons laptops. They also don’t appreciate getting hit on by the Homeless for “Spare Change ” as if children aged 9 to 14 have any.

      Aesop told us over Two Thousand years ago a fable of ” The Man with Two Wives”. The moral was quite simple — try to please all, and soon you’ll please none.

      I also go to the library less and less every year — and find alternatives to doing so. The reasons are not only the afforementioned, but also the ridiculous practices set out by our local Library management.

      1. Putting Branches as part of recreational complexes — parking becomes difficult at best, and near impossible when an Event or Sporting Match is occurring.
      2. The endless amount of ridiculous ” Courses ” or as my wife calls them ” wastes of time ” put on by the Library in which every second or third question is answered with ” I’m not sure”, ” I don’t know” , or ” I’ll have to get back to you on that ” — all these do is screw up parking, and the patrons/victims of the course come out with wrong information given by the course ” instructor? “.
      One woman consistently gives a course on e-readers, and admitted to me that even though she’s had one for over a year she ” couldnt’ get it to work “. Unbelievable!

      There are various others but I’ll leave it at three. So here it is.

      3. You had a post about ” Why People Hate Weeding ” not long ago. Being a retired Controller of a retail chain spread with over thirty units in it, I can truly appreciate the necessity of doing so.
      However, in my Public Library system, this seems to be code for drastically reducing shelf space/floor space for books. The library branch closest to my now has less than 14,000 books in total in it ( including the children’s section, comic books/graphic novels, teen, young adult, etc. )
      If you think I’m lying to you or kidding you, I wouldn’t blame you. What has pushed out and might continue to push outmore books is Internet stations, where people can play Tv shows, Movies,
      Youtube, Social Media, and Online games, DVDs, BluRays, Comic Books and so on. Now that branch is getting a Makerspace area — let’s guess what is going to get further reduced to make room for this.

      The Public gives the Library Systems money in order to promote literacy, not to quite bluntly plow through endless amounts of taxpayer cash in order to find something, anything to desperately justify your existence. The previous sentence was from one of my cousins who is a librarian —
      who every morning wakes up crosses off a number on her wall calender and puts on a new one for the next working day. What is she counting down to ?, how many working days before she can put in for retirement. She’s tired of endless meetings on how do we get our numbers back up, and as she says ” having to slap a silly smile on her face, and tell the long-term patrons who are on the verge of leaving forever that the Library is in a period of transition ” and politely side-stepping the question as to what Movies, TV, Videogames, Music, Social Media, etc, etc have to do with Literacy.

      Since this website is frequented by Librarians around the world maybe someone out there can explain it to me or her.

    • rioka says:

      @ Library Observer

      If you do not like the direction your library is taking, then you have to be vocal about it. Don’t just let the employees know about it, go directly to the Board of Trustees. The Board tend to meet every month and listen to patrons voice their opinions (good or bad) about library services and the direction the library is heading.

      If you just let an employee know, your comments may fall on deaf ears somewhere along the chain of command, so to speak, whether it’s the employee him/herself, the department head or even the library director.

      Each director has their own vision of the direction they want to library to head. The director is hired by the Board. The Board; publicly held positions I might add; listens to the public. If the public doesn’t say anything about what is going on in their library then by assumption that everything is “okay”, it will keep heading into the direction as envisioned by the Library Director.

      If the Board doesn’t listen and correct it, there are other avenues to pursue from writing op ed pieces, voting out board members, letting others in the community get involved, and so on.

  11. Michelle says:

    I have mixed feelings on this subject as I see two sides of this. From the librarian’s perspective, I could see this as a possible burden in having to police patrons more from entering the library section with their coffee. From the patron’s side of it, I could definitely see them enjoying a cup of coffee and reading a book, listening to a CD, etc. (I’m not sold on the soft music part??) In thinking about having a “coffee house” in a library, I believe one of the primary considerations to having an area for “coffee” would be to look at the layout/space of the library along with the amount of traffic, demographics, etc. as to whether it makes sense to even consider this.

    • Tom says:

      We allow drinks into our libraries. Hasn’t been a problem. Some branches allow food as well. The goodwill has been worth the occasional spill.

  12. M.A. says:

    Why, oh why, don’t I know the right people?

  13. Kate says:

    THIS —-> “…because I like my coffee to have a certain burnt viscosity about it…”

  14. Library Observer says:

    REPLY TO RIOKA

    Sorry to take so long to reply, I was at a place with no internet access and only one landline phone at the General Store at the lake.

    After having tried for several years to get Library management to change policies which were designed with the Library Staff in particular in mind only — not the patrons, I quit trying.

    I found either free or next to free ways to replace basically all the services, programs, and products that my Public Library system has to offer — and no longer need to walk into a branch anymore.

    The Director and upper (management?) consistently ignore basic business principles, one of which being if you don’t satisfy a customer’s needs they will either quit patronizing you, find some other establishment that will, or a combination of the two.

    I could give various examples — but here is one of the more basic ones, and it regards the library hours.

    Now keep in mind that this is a City with a population of over 800,000, has 25 branches, the normal branch is about the size of a Dollar Tree store, and the average library branch expenditures exceed 1.3 million dollars per branch — let me repeat 1.3 million dollars per branch per year, with average library wages and benefits of $ 317 per hour per branch of each hour open.

    For the over three months of “Summer Hours” guess how many hours the entire Library system are open on Sundays, let me give you a hint — it’s a round number. Yep, there is no library branch open on Sundays. On Saturdays the entire Public Library system is open for an entire 28 branch hours — four branches open up for seven hours each even though any full-time staff working gets paid for eight hours. There are only three days when people who are still working a normal 9 to 5 job can get to the Library.

    We deserve better !

    One of the many other business principles that they ignore is ” Be very careful of who you start catering to — They’ll be the ones you end up with” — but that’s another story.

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