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Director's Column

PLSJC Director Alan Hall writes a weekly column discussing library and community news, history, and other interesting subjects.

Library Cafe

By Alan Hall, Director, PLSJ
Publish Date - Sunday, February 24, 2008

Library administration textbooks of a few years ago never mentioned the sale of drinks and snacks in a public library.


Some libraries kept waxed paper and plastic bags at the desk to confiscate food and drinks that appeared in a library.


So, as a librarian trained in the 1970s, it seems a little odd to activate the new vending machines in the Library Café just completed at the Schiappa Branch.


But, with the world comes change, and the library needs to change with the expectations of the customer.


I think this change started about 20 years ago, when our society began walking around with bottles of water in our hands.


It seemed like we needed liquid refreshment in our hand as we moved through our day.


Then we walked around with convenient snacks in our pockets.


Finally, the large bookstores in our society began offering various drinks and food as part of their store operations.


Library surveys have found that library customers would like the same offering in their libraries, so when Schiappa needed some interior renovations, the time was right for a Library Café.


We researched 30 public libraries in Ohio that offered some degree of food service, ranging from a "food cart" to a complete restaurant.


Libraries described their food services as generally successful, although I did find some libraries that had completely ended the service due to financial issues.


Even in a large metropolitan library, there tends to be a limited business, and staffed operations seem to struggle financially.


That is why we chose a vending operation that requires no staffing, can be attractive in a library setting, and offers drinks and snacks that "won't make a mess" for us old-time librarians.


In the 20 years since the Schiappa Branch was constructed, public libraries have changed in other ways.


Computers and online systems have entered the library, while large paper back files of periodicals and study tables have diminished.


The renovation has addressed those changes and created a bright and colorful new image for the public library of 2008.


Some of the library collection isn't even visible today.


Our library system is the largest provider of e-books to the public of all of the 73 libraries in our automated system.


We don't even see these library customers; they exist in the electronic world of the library web site.


The library still has books and magazines, and chairs and tables, and programs for children and adults; but it is a new era.


And what will the future bring to libraries?


Buildings aren't being replaced, but rather supplemented with new tools and information sources that can be accessed in the library or remotely.


What our society is finding is that humans can't sit in front of a computer without "getting out" and interacting, and the library provides that place.


In fact, it is the place where the 40,000 area library cardholders do interact with information.