As we’ll see, coffeehouses provided something society needed: a place to just be. But no one had any idea how badly we needed it. (51)
So reads a section of Starbucked by Taylor Clark. The idea of a comfort place, a third place as it has been called, was taken under the wing by the Starbucks visionaries and has become a staple at nearly all their stores. The comforting soft tones of wood tables, abundant chairs of varying sizes and comfort levels, and the wafting aroma of splendid coffee all welcome you in from the freezing cold (if you’re in Chicago like myself) or the scorching heat (if you’re someplace pleasant and not Chicago). The point being that Starbucks is a comfort place.
There are two distinct memories of my high school library that come to mind: one, the very nice computer lab and, two, the donated sofa and recliner placed next to the periodicals. Yes, we had books. No, we did not have a full-time librarian (and that’s another issue entirely). And of course I have other memories – but my mind chooses these two first and foremost for their obvious importance to me. Those old pieces of furniture provided a refuge for me during passing periods, as a place to relax before extra curricular activities, and as a pleasant place to study. The computers served my geeky needs. Together they created my comfort place.
Sadly, not all libraries get this – the idea that the stacks can be intermixed with a welcoming decor, a place to indulge in the pleasures of a book, or even a quick check of e-mail (or stock quotes). Creating a pleasurable experience is now a necessity for businesses and, whether we all agree or not, libraries keep stock, provide products, and serve customer needs – just like businesses. It’s important to note where our users shop and why. Do they go off to Starbucks and Barnes and Noble? Why? What is it that lures them in? There is nothing wrong about examining business practices for potential implementation in libraries. As I recently saw, Barnes and Noble in northern Milwaukee offers meeting times for aspiring writers – something libraries have done and continue to do. If they pull ideas from libraries, why not reciprocate?
Besides looking at physical layout and design ideas, libraries should try to look at business practices and place them in a library-related context. Something as simple as designated tech support (like the Apple genius bar), comfy couches (like Barnes and Noble), or even rent on demand (Netflix) could make all the difference to patrons.