Library Futures

more thoughts on a cafe branch

In my last post, late night wifi, an opportunity for libraries?, Eric Frierson comments that he liked the idea, but also that he’s

…not sure why it should be a *library* venture if the purpose is to provide coffee, free wifi, and non-circulating magazines.

The more I think about it the more I’m convinced that the concept of a cafe branch is a great idea. Libraries are doing the reverse and putting coffee shops in libraries, why not go all the way and put a library in a coffee shop? The idea doesn’t seem that radical to me. Here are some characteristics of my hypothetical cafe library branch:

→ provides access to information
→ has some computers available
→ provides help finding things (if asked)
→ provides access to content (magazines, newspapers, some books strewn about)
→ is a community gathering place
→ holds some special events
→ has reservable group study space

Pretty traditional stuff, right? People might bristle at this idea not because of the traditional services it would provide, but what it would lack. In particular, a collection of books.

coffeeNow before anyone gets bent out of shape, let me be clear. I’m not saying that all libraries should be like this, just that this model is an option. Libraries can certainly be much more than what I’m describing here, and they should be. However, libraries don’t always have to strive to be their full incarnation 100% of the time. Just like a small neighborhood branch probably doesn’t have an extensive collection of periodical back issues, so my hypothetical cafe library could shed some library baggage to free it to explore new territory. The geographical language is appropriate. Without large collections to house, the relatively small cafe library can fit into spaces that other branches couldn’t. (Wouldn’t it be great to have space for picking up and returning holds though?) This might allow it to be located in vital and busy areas with tons of foot traffic.

I know you didn’t get a Masters degree to serve coffee. No big deal, it wouldn’t be part of your job. The “shift supervisor” could be a “for real librarian,” managing staff and doing other librarian work like monitoring the library’s IM reference service.

I’m not convinced this idea would work in every context or community, but sitting here in Little Beirut where many people are fueled by their neighborhood coffee shops, I can think of a number of cities where this would work.

This library cafe branch would not just be a means to the end of getting people to use other library resources. It would be legitimate on its own, but wouldn’t it do a good job marketing the larger library too? Among the locally made art on display there would be adverts for relevant library events. Each time someone logs into the wifi network they’d be greeted with list of library resources and be authenticated into library databases. Oh, and how about this? People don’t need a library card to access the wifi, but customers get a 50% discount on coffee and food when they sign up for one. And a 10% discount on each transaction when they present the card.

In a certain sense, a cafe branch would be for a niche market. This is a good thing because we know that niche markets can become obsessively enthusiastic about their interests. Because they’re often concerned with trying to be many things to different people, libraries often miss out on capturing this passion. Last time I checked, we want people passionate and excited about libraries. Having a narrower focus might be one way to cultivate more use and zeal for the library.

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bisson & blyberg on the state of social libraries

I haven’t been treated to two thoughtful, synchronous posts like this in a long while. They don’t say the exact same thing but they’re complementary and there’s some overlap. Gobs worth thinking about.

Is Facebook Really The Point? by Casey Bisson

It is essential that we build social features into our libraries. Comments, easy linkability (short, sensical URLs), and findability in search engines are must haves in our systems. But that isn’t enough. We also need outstanding librarians to breath life into them.

Library 2.0 Debased by John Blyberg

Of course, that means we have to have a working framework to begin with that compliments and adheres to our tradition of solid, proven librarianship. In other words, when we use technology, it should be transparent, intuitive, and a natural extension of the patron experience. If it can’t be transparent, then it should be so overwhelmingly beneficial to the user that it is canonized not by the techies, but the users themselves.

One thing I’d like to highlight is that both posts seem to be begging libraries to provide authentic online social experiences for patrons. I don’t think John’s idea of offering technology that is a “natural extension of the patron experience” can occur without the use of technology being a natural extension of Casey’s “outstanding librarian.” The outstanding librarian can’t just understand the importance of the read/write web on a theoretical level. The outstanding librarian must be a participant.

“This stuff can’t be faked” is another way to state this. Faking it, like dabbling with a social networking site (“simply thrusting a MySpace page in their face”), doesn’t recognize the deep and disruptive nature of social technology that John mentions in the beginning of his piece. He doesn’t explicitly mention this disruptive nature again, but make the implication when he raises the issue of “thorough recalibration of process, policy, physical spaces, staffing…”

Like a wise man once said, “Let’s get serious!

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say “buy” with your phone

While I’m on the topic of phones…

Today I came across some very potentially important news . Sprint is partnering with movie ticketing giant/annoying ad purveyor Fandango to sell and issue movie tickets via cell phones. The issuing mechanism is pretty novel. Once tickets are purchased, a message including a scannable barcode is sent back to the phone. The specific of this aren’t what’s most important however. Just the fact that it is happening is important. Asia has been buying things out of vending machines with their cell phones for years, and we might be *slowly* catching up. But remember, we’re 7 years behind. Here’s a bit more on Asian eCash.

While I think it’ll be neat to pay for a cab or Mountain Dew with my phone, what I’m most concerned about is how libraries will or will not embrace the delivery of content and services via cell phone. Now I know…we’re having a hard enough time letting people pay their fines or apply for a card online, but we should probably be thinking about both today’s problems and tomorrow’s.

About two years ago I wrote a post titled the power of texting in which I mention incorporating texting into holds notifications. Recently, Michael Casey linked to Teleflip, a universal email to text service, and highlighted how it could indeed be used to send a hold notification.

Phones aren’t getting any less featured, right? Right now, it’s more difficult to find a phone without a camera than it is to find a cameraphone. Wow. These little devices will increasingly be an always-on link to the Web and will give us a convenient digital interface to the physical world. But instead of just talking to a physical human being, we could be unlocking our cars, doing our laundry, and feeding our dogs. Perhaps we’ll even be using them as our library cards and paying library fines with them.

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