Panera Fridays

Michael Stephens posted a photo yesterday mentioning that he holds his Wednesday office hours at Panera Bread. It reminded me of an effort I made last year to encourage some of our reference librarians to set up a weekly shift at Panera (or Starbucks or Safeway). It seems like such a simple idea to get the library out in the community — visible in a place our patrons are.

  • Talk to the proprietor. I’m sure most would be happy to support a public library in such a simple way.
  • Buy a sandwich and coffee/tea.
  • Prop up a sign “Got a question? Get an answer! I’m a librarian.
  • Turn on your wireless laptop.

A librarian with access to the Internet and the library’s online collection of databases could surely answer most questions on the spot. Difficult puzzlers might be solved with a quick email or IM to the folks back at the branch. Answers could be sent to a portable printer or the patron’s email address.

Busy people might not think of the library in their daily routine. Let’s change that! A consistent reference shift (say, every Friday from 11-3) at a local wifi hotspot could make the friendly librarian at the next table much more visible than the big library building itself.

No one in our library has done this yet because, so I’ve been told, there’s not enough staff to spare and no overall vision for this to fit. (Sigh.) Does it need to be a big, planned project? Can’t we just try it and see how it’s received? Tell the staff you’re going to take a long lunch tomorrow … and do the field research while you’re at it.

My question to readers in LibraryLand: Is anyone doing a “Panera Friday”? Would anyone like to give it a try?

11 Responses to Panera Fridays

  1. A colleague and I (at a university library) ran a small trial near a couple of student cafes late last year, about four sessions. We still need to get together to write the results up – other projects (and Christmas) have interfered in that. Personally I thought the results were good once we got the hang of it, but finding times when both of us could get away from our own separate branch libraries was a real problem: staffing is tight — especially around the best time for it, which is lunch hour!

    But if you’re having trouble convincing people to try it, it might be easier to suggest a short trial with explicit start/end dates than to get them to commit to a full-blown project.

  2. Michael Stephens says:

    Checkout what Dave Fulton was doing at Panera:

    Hey Dave – are you still going? Are others?

  3. Alex says:

    I’d give it a shot. Coffeehouse reference would definitely be an interesting change of pace. Might actually get more people asking questions, because they wouldn’t be so worried about whether you were “busy” doing some important Librarian Illuminati thing. Plus, in a place that serves decent drinks and/or munchies, it would be quite comfortable.

    I don’t own a laptop, though, so I can’t exactly volunteer equipment that I don’t have. Until the library actually buys some, then I guess it’s a bit of a pipe dream.

  4. Alex says:

    As it turns out, after some rumaging, the laptop’s not really the big hangup for me getting a pilot program off the ground – it’s that I’m out in the middle of suburbia with no clearly defined “hotspot” to gravitate to, as best I can tell.

  5. […] It’s about a taking a librarian and a wireless laptop, and sitting them in a (wireless) hotspot for a couple of hours to answer any questions from the public. The laptop gives them access to the library collections and online databases, and if more assistance is required then the library itself is only an email away. Read the article here […]

  6. Jonathon says:

    For what it’s worth, while public libraries may not do this very much (yet, hopefully), there are several colleges whose libraries do this. University of Pittsburgh’s library has occasional remote reference hours near the bagel stand in one of its largest classroom buildings, and I think Michigan does something similar as well, though it’s been a while since I was there, and I may be misremembering…

  7. Kirsti says:

    I’m an academic librarian. A few months ago I got a tablet PC with wireless which has revolutionized how I approach reference. Since then, the other librarians and I have been talking about taking advantage of wireless access and moving some of our services out of the library building and into the rest of campus. Why shouldn’t we be in the dorms during finals? Why not have a booth (a la Lucy Van Pelt) in the cafeteria? For public librarians, why not send people out to the local mall now and then? I’m with you– make the library visible to people where they are.

  8. Steve Campion says:

    It’s been great to hear from many of you who have done this, or plan to do this. (Cheers to Liverpool & Michigan & Pittsburgh!) If you hear of other libraries starting the service (or even the experiment), please mention it here. We can all learn from each other’s adventures: what worked, what didn’t.

    Kirsti: I like the way you think. A librarian just downstairs in the dorm during finals! Or in the cafeteria… Those are great ideas.

    Our (non-computerized) forays into malls haven’t gone too well. I think too many shoppers have objectives that don’t match our service. Plus we may look too much like those survey people with clipboards! More leisurely or casual settings (like coffee shops, cafeterias or dorms) might work best. That said, though, I hope librarians are willing to give any public place a try.

  9. Alex says:

    Librarians in places whre people need them – in that tack, I think we should have a librarian or two not only in coffee shops for daytime people, but out in some pubs and nightclubs for the crowd that comes out when the sun goes down. The Guinness Book of World Records was born out of disputes in pubs over what really was the biggest/longest/strongest/etc. X – so why not take the idea all the way out – although being able to enjoy a pint and a reference query will be a bit of an age restriction, and we wouldn’t recommend it for everyone all the time.

    Would Pub Reference work as well as Panera Fridays?

  10. Kirsti says:

    > Would Pub Reference work as well as Panera Fridays?

    Heck, I’d volunteer willingly for that shift. I think most of my co-workers would too.

  11. Kate Holmes says:

    I’m the Librarian/Training Specialist for Jacksonville Public Library system, & we’ve been inspired to borrow your idea & run with it. We have to create a proposal and have adiministration approve it, but interest is high. Has anyone gone so far as to build a partnership with a local coffee shop? If so, I’d love to hear the details! Thanks!

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