I’ve had the following experience several times recently: there I am, hanging around Barnes & Noble, and, having just finished perusing the “Existential Dread” section of the store, I make my way over to the “Barnes & Noble Cafe” to grab a coffee and look upon the Pumpkin Spice Latte drinkers with utter contempt. And then it hits me: this place has turned into a library. Except better. Because people actually like to hang out here.
I’m really struck by how many people just go there to buy a coffee, hang out, and peruse books and magazines they have no intention of buying. Every time I see that I think, “Wait. Why are they here? Why didn’t they come to the library? It’s just like this, only … better, right?!”
It seems to me there must be something wrong about that line of thinking, though. As their mere presence treating Barnes & Noble like a library attests, a lot of people don’t seem to think the library is better. Why? Why would you rather go hang around this commercial place that doesn’t really even particularly want you to just browse their stuff, rather than the place whose very existence is predicated on you doing exactly that?
I don’t really know what to make of it, but it gives me pause. I know people browsing & hanging around bookstores is nothing new. I love to do it. But I usually go there with the intention to buy something, when (at least it seems to me as I stand there stink-eying people holding peppermint mochas), most of these Barnes & Noblers don’t really seem to have that intention at all. I suspect the answer has something to do with the nature of the various spaces (I know there’s lots of literature on “library as place” which I should be more well-versed in), people’s habits and the things they’re aware of, coffee shops, and so forth. But I’m curious. Is this absolute doom for libraries? Is there something more Barnes & Nobley we could be doing better? Does Ryan Gosling ever not look devastatingly handsome? Anyone have any thoughts on any of this?