Libraries rewrite rulebook in an effort to stay relevant
They’re ditching rules on noise, food and drink in effort to seem more like hip bookstores
— reported by the Houston Chronicle
Orange neon and iPods. Espresso bars and flat screens. Internet sites with advice about sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll.
Libraries ain’t what they used to be.
With funding tight and competition fierce, the hushed repositories of worldly knowledge are undergoing an extreme makeover. Far from a simple shift from encyclopedias to laptops, the institution is embarking on a cultural time warp to keep pace with modern tastes.
It’s not happening at every local library, but the trend is not paper-thin. In several cities, librarians are steeping themselves in business-management theory and marketing to niche audiences. They’re studying service at five-diamond resorts and ditching rules on noise, food and drink.
It’s “all part of responding to the changing needs of our constituency,” says Katsouleas of the Newport library, which offers audio books on iPods and a teen room with a neon sign. “A 6-year-old does not need the same kind of materials and environment as teens.”
But behaving like a business means more than accommodating finicky consumers; it also means making money.
With budgets increasingly dedicated to technology and municipal funding often flat, libraries are charting new paths — far beyond used-book sales — to fatten their wallets.
In Huntington Beach, officials rent out rooms for family reunions, wedding receptions and religious services, events that netted the library $400,000 last year. Mission Viejo proctors tests and doles out passports, pocketing tidy commissions from each.
“We celebrate our entrepreneurialism here,” says Maginnis of the Mission Viejo Library, which may soon partner with a private copy center.