Brewing up a “social” library


A lingering image of traditional libraries for many is to visualize in our mind’s eye a librarian holding their finger to their mouth and indicating a silent “shush.” While I am not advocating for all hell breaking loose in libraries, I do think a bit of respectful social banter ‘midst the book racks wouldn’t hurt either.

While writing a recent post about libraries as great third places, the post briefly discussed the necessary elements that would help reshape an austere traditional library into a successful and active third place. In doing so, I noted five public libraries that have coffee shops/cafes now incorporated into them. This blend of activities/uses is a relatively simple method of community placemaking.

As I see it, the benefits of blending the activities/uses of a library and coffee shop include:

  • More potential patrons (and donors).
  • Improved socialization areas.
  • A direct way for libraries to compete with (and capitalize on) social media.
  • More community and citizen engagement.
  • Access to snacks and drinks on site instead of off-site, creating less minor trips on area infrastructure.
  • An additional revenue source for the library either through a lease or direct ownership of the shop/cafe. In tight budget times, a coffee shop of cafe may be the perfect recipe.

Potential risks and ways to overcome them include,

  • Damage to books and documents from spills.  This should be no more likely than someone spilling on a book when they take it home, read it in a car, or at an off-site coffee shop.
  • Noise. By careful placement of the coffee shop/cafe, this can be overcome. Separate floors or walls are viable options.
  • Theft. If there is a separate entrance, which fire codes may require, then install anti-theft devices at the entrance/exit as is done at the library’s primary entrance.

Here are some interesting findings from a research report entitled “The Survey of Library Cafes.”

– Snacks account for nearly 71% of the income of library cafes, though lunch adds a not at all negligible 20.83% of total revenue and breakfast chips in with another 8.33%, according to The Survey of Library Cafes.

– Salads in this era of health consciousness chipped in only a mean of 4.5% of sales, more in the public than college libraries. All salad sales came from the larger libraries, those with more than 600,000 annual patrons.

– The average price of a cup of coffee in the library cafes was $1.49, perhaps reflecting the Starbuck-ization of the library café. This figure also takes into account those libraries that gave their coffee away.

– More than 40% of the library cafes offered outdoor eating. Close to 65% of the libraries in the sample had vending machines, with an average of only about three vending machines per library.

To my personal dismay, I am not aware of such a blended library/coffee

shop format at community libraries in Greater Lansing, though there is one at Michigan State University. So, I thought I would try to list as many of those school and public libraries as I could track down as a way of demonstrating the concept does work and has been employed in a variety of locations. Here’s the list to date (to be updated as I discover more):


This entry was posted in architecture, books, cities, coffee shops/cafes, culture, economic gardening, education, land use, libraries, placemaking, planning, urban planning and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to Brewing up a “social” library

  1. Aaron says:

    Seattle Public Library (our fancy downtown branch) brought in local coffee company Chocolati (never been sure why they picked them). UW libraries have Tully’s cafes, Tully’s is all over UW campus. Those are two examples of our libraries bringing in outside companies who, I assume, rent space. I’m not sure if either of them see more income as their tenants sell more coffee.


  2. Kenny says:

    Clemson Univeristy (in Clemson, SC) has a coffee shop in the library – it really cements the library’s position as the center of campus.


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