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?