I ran across two posts today that demonstrate the transition that the physical space a library occupies is going through right now. Betsy McKenzie at Out of the Jungle Blog had a follow-up post on the Cushing Academy’s (private school in Massachusetts) ditched all of the books in its library and created a “digital library” with the focus on making the library more about “service” than about books. Apparently, the success of this transition is so popular that the headmaster has gone “from pariah to prophet.”

The other post was in the Columbia Spectator (Columbia University newspaper) about a (what I assume is an undergrad) student who found her way into the law library and was sorely disappointed in what she found:

  • Books
  • Quiet 
  • Lots of room to spread out and study
  • No food or coffee
  • No decent WiFi 
  • No cell phone reception

From this student’s point of view, the law library at Columbia Law School was so restricted that “the library feels vaguely like a maze of finding what you can and cannot do. Figuring out what you’re allowed to do will be harder than any work you bring.”

The student wasn’t completely negative in what she found in the law library. For example, the service she received from the law librarians and staff was “exceptionally helpful and friendly.” Hmmm… there’s that word again… “service.”

We’ve argued in the past that the library is not a place which only houses books, but rather is a place that serves its community and provides it with a place for that community to come (physically or virtually) to access the information that community requires. To equate a library as a place to find books is as short-sighted as equating it as a place to get coffee. Libraries serve their community. In serving the community, the library may offer coffee… bagels… rest rooms… WiFi… and even a book or two. All of these things are important, but they are secondary to the overall service that is provided to the community.

  • Its a trend I have witnessed at Barnes & Noble…parents are actually dropping their kids off to "study" in the bookstore's cafe.

    Every time I go to the B&N in Houston's Galleria, Upper Kirby or River Oaks area, there are tons of teens occupying all of the tables.

    They are reading, wifiing, slurping and nibbling. That's what Ms. Columbia is looking for–not a library but a B&N.

    Maybe B&N is missing an opportunity here???

  • I had a friend that worked at a Borders bookstore back in the 90's and she used to laugh at customers that would come up to the counter and ask if she could quite down the people who were talking because it was interruping their abilty to study. She would suggest that maybe they needed to go to the library, because Borders was a place of business.

  • I can kind of see the extreme level of marketability that places like Books-A-Million and Barnes & Noble offer; but sometimes, the quiet of a library is more appealing than the appeal of places like Barnes & Noble. I tend to go to these two separate places for two separate reasons…perhaps if the two were to combine?

  • It's 'customer thinking' like this that will continue to improve law firms and legal services. Good post, Greg.