- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 13, 2003

Stefan Rogers walks a circuitous route to Fort Wayne's downtown public library. The 25-year-old Indiana homeowner picks up his cup of coffee at a food co-op several blocks from the library, finishes his java en route and tosses the cup in the trash before entering the doors to research electrical wiring.
The carved lettering on a sign tells why Mr. Rogers gulped down his last swallow: "No Food or Beverages Beyond This Point. Thank You."
Public library patrons have come to expect an unfriendly attitude from library staff when it comes to food or drink. But that attitude is changing. Library planners have learned from bookstore chains like Borders and Barnes & Noble that if you let customers order a cappuccino, they're likely to linger.
"There is a sort of a shift of the historical role that a library plays in a community," said Jeffrey Scherer, a Minneapolis architect with MS&R; Ltd., a firm specializing in library design.
"The shift is from its classic traditional role of retaining material to a place to gather and exchange information, and participate as a group."
A library-gathering place needs something to sustain its gatherers, so, increasingly, renovation and construction includes a cafe or coffee shop.
Mr. Scherer said a generation of suburban libraries built in the early 1960s with federal money from the Library Service and Construction Act are being retired or refurbished.
And central branch libraries are enjoying revitalization as cities seek to expand downtown living, which is what's happening in Fort Wayne.
Indiana's second-largest city is undergoing an $86 million improvement of its library system, including $56 million to renovate and expand its downtown branch. The project will be finished in 2006.
"We started planning this countywide capital project in 1997, and from almost the beginning, everybody was enthusiastic about having a cafe," said Jeffrey Krull, director of Fort Wayne's Allen County Public Library.
"Starbucks was rolling full tilt then and there was a definite desire to have something similar. It really played into our goals of making the downtown library as attractive as we could, and as multifaceted as we could, so that families who come have lots of reasons to come back."
Mr. Krull and his staff visited other libraries with cafes and coffee shops in cities like Denver, Phoenix, San Antonio and Chicago.
Other public libraries with coffee shops and cafes include those in St. Paul, Minn.; Eugene, Ore., and the upscale Indianapolis suburb of Carmel.
Mr. Krull said he envisions the Fort Wayne cafe staying open after library hours.
It works in Palo Alto, Calif., and in Omaha, Neb., where the library coffee shop opens early to catch workers on their way to the office. Eugene's Novella Cafe does the same.
Novella Cafe opened the day after Christmas last year and has been generally well-received (though one malcontent did threaten to vomit in the lobby if he was forced to endure the brew's odor each day but it was just a threat.)
Oregonians who prefer a caffeine and book combo can have it their way inside the library, as long as the cups are capped.
"It's sort of like the Starbucks syndrome," said Kirby Mills, a Eugene librarian. "[Some people] don't feel they're living unless they have access to coffee within 10 feet."
One library coffee shop in Rancho Mirage, Calif., caters to an over-60 crowd. Mr. Scherer said it's set up with Internet access so grandparents can stay wired to their grandchildren.
Minneapolis approved a $110 million referendum to build a new central library to open in 2006. The glass-walled structure by renowned architect Cesar Pelli included initial plans for a coffee shop and to some e-mail complaints about wasting taxpayers' money a planetarium.
"Up until World War II, libraries were built on the pride that they were lasting forever for a community," said Mr. Scherer. "Now, we're so driven on corporate, bottom-line thinking."
The common library policy forbidding food and drink has nothing to do with possible book damage.
Library administrators tell Mr. Scherer it's due to the extra maintenance costs needed to clean spills, and also because crumbs bring insects and other vermin.
Still, Cedar Rapids Public Library in Iowa has gone where few libraries have dared the intermarriage of books and beverages throughout its building. Patrons to its second-floor cafe can take their lunch, desserts, coffee and specialized beverages back to the stacks, or anywhere else.
"It used to be you didn't want them to bring in [soda] pop," said Virginia Grant, a Cedar Rapids librarian since 1968. "Now, it's sort of natural."
"People live such busy lives," said Diana Baculis, community relations manager at Cedar Rapids Public Library. "If they're eating a sandwich and we can enrich their mind at the same time, why not?"
Miss Baculis points out Cedar Rapids strives to be a progressive library in many ways. It has a branch library within a shopping mall, and patrons can return materials at seven local grocery stores.
"People are accustomed to the old woman who says, 'Shh,' with a bun in her hair," Miss Baculis said. "We're working vigorously to change that image. We have a lot of exchange of ideas and programs."
Capturing a new generation of readers is a challenge for America's libraries. A recent study in American Libraries magazine showed nearly half of all librarians will reach retirement age before the year 2020.
President Bush's fiscal year 2004 budget includes $20 million for librarian recruitment.
Boston library architect Carole Wedge said the newer generation of library patrons have come to expect caffeine with the printed word.
"The cappuccino and espresso bar has moved to the East Coast and become a part of the culture in the last 10 years," Miss Wedge said. "It's natural the library would embrace that. My sense is the library has always been mirroring the culture."
Miss Wedge said Columbia University's Butler Library in Manhattan was the first academic or public library to install a cafe. That was a decade ago.
But in the Washington area, the traditional separatist view reigns regarding food and books. Librarians scratched their heads when asked if they had a coffee shop or at least a food counter.
Lee DeRoche of the Alexandria Central Branch Library thought she remembered reading about a Maryland library that opened up a coffee shop.
"We were all so shocked," said Miss DeRoche. "Just think about all those crumbly scones or coffee-cup spills."
But change is nothing new for libraries.
Mr. Krull recalls the debate in the early 20th century regarding whether libraries should carry fiction.
Paperback books then became the questionable item.
Sound recordings? Videotapes? Also debated, then embraced. Personal-computer usage in the 1990s was a huge change.
So if there are a few crumbs or a puddle of soda on a bookshelf, libraries likely can handle it. After all, said Mr. Krull, "God knows where the [books] go when they get home."

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