Library as Place, Or What’s Up With this Whole Barnes & Noble-As-Library Situation?

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?

RG Pumpkin Spice

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2 Comments

Filed under Education, On Being Human, Posts by Kevin Michael Klipfel, Reading & Literacy, The Library Game

2 responses to “Library as Place, Or What’s Up With this Whole Barnes & Noble-As-Library Situation?

  1. I wonder how much of this can be blamed on old, crappy infrastructure. Like, we’re moving into a brand new building next week and we intentionally adopted a B&N model in many respects: a Starbucks, bookstore-style display shelving for popular fiction and films, B&N style seating, and so on. Lots of newish library buildings seem to do the same. Or, to put it another way, would people still hang out at B&N if it was a 70s era, brutalist chunk of concrete with frayed chairs and spotty wifi?

  2. Kevin Michael Klipfel

    Thanks for your comment, Lane. I”m sure you’re right and my random, unscientific observations from Barnes & Nobling make me think that this is a smart direction for libraries to be going in. It seems just like a patron-centered model – to try to update space so that it’s the kind of place where people wanna be. I think that’s what, ultimately, I’m struck by: we need to be learner-centered across the board; space is part of that; and corporations seem to be doing that better than some libraries.

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