Bruce's Blog

Feb. 10, 2010

What's this I hear about the 'Starbuckization' of our Library?

Years ago, I was in a library at another university. It was an eight-story building with one floor containing general campus offices. The rest of the floors were for stacks and other library services.

This mixed use created a problem: how to avoid books disappearing from the stacks. A division of labor among elevators solved the problem. Two elevators could be entered only after going through a control point and they lead only to the stacks. The third elevator, outside the control point, led only to the general office floor.

It was a Saturday and I was in that third elevator on the way to the floor with offices. So were two students, obviously confused. So, I asked them if I could help. They said they were having trouble figuring out how to get to the floors with the stacks. I politely explained the need to transfer elevators. The thought in my head: “I sure hope they are not seniors.”

Which brings me to a recent flurry of inquiries I have received about rumors of a café being located in Wilson Library. (One communicant did use that term: “Starbuckization.”) These concerns focused on whether a café, food, drink, and a commercial enterprise might compromise the atmosphere, appropriate uses, and traditional design of our impressive library and the great spaces within it.

This brought back another memory. Over twenty years ago, I became aware that, in a major remodel and expansion, an entire floor of the library at the university where I worked was being completely reconfigured to provide space to relax, study, meet in small groups, perhaps even cat nap. And, enjoy a latte or bite to eat.

I was of the generation where no food or beverages were permitted in libraries, and I was skeptical. But, upon completion, I saw a large, attractive space where, rarely, was there ever an empty chair. And, rather than cat napping, students were energetically conversing. I suppose I believe so deeply in libraries that I felt there is a benefit -- if, perhaps, only through some obscure process of intellectual osmosis -- flowing from merely having more students in the library.

Be that as it may, the concerns I heard were legitimate here at Western and I promised to look into them. I asked Dean of Libraries Chris Cox to brief me on Western’s plans. That he has just recently done. I am impressed.

I cannot begin to convey the details. I have asked Chris to put the plans and renderings on the Web so you can see them for yourself. The café is part of a “learning commons” that has been in the small projects queue for some time and is coming closer to realization. It converts a space currently little used.

There will be inviting spaces with comfortable seating and attractive tables. There will be spaces for group study. The tables will be on wheels so that the space can be reconfigured for other purposes. I imagine authors (faculty, students, staff, guests) sharing poetry and prose readings.

And, there will be a café -- although, in the rendering I saw, it happened not to be Starbucks.

This proposal is the kind of proactive visioning I encourage within our Western community. Chris has shared the details on the Library's Web site. Let him know what you think. I am greatly impressed with the forward-thinking and “out-reaching” efforts of all of our library professionals.

I am aware that others see the matter differently. As an example, please consider our colleague Professor Neem’s thoughtful essay in Reviving the Academic Library.



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