P.G. considers adding private cafes to public libraries

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Local,Maryland,Matt Connolly

Prince George's lawmakers are hoping that a bit of caffeine could jump-start Prince George's County's financially struggling library system.

A Maryland bill under consideration by the Prince George's County General Assembly delegation would examine placing private businesses like coffee shops and cafes in the county's public libraries.

Del. Aisha Braveboy, D-Prince George's, who introduced the bill, said she got the idea as bookstores with cafes across the county began to downsize and close up shop. They offered a community feel that allowed for book clubs, group meetings and other activities, she said.

"At the typical library you kind of go in, do your own reading or research, and there's no opportunity to have that social gathering," Braveboy said. "In addition to helping create that atmosphere, this will increase revenue for libraries."

If her bill passes, a task force would convene in October and make recommendations to the county by the end of 2014.

While county library director Kathleen Teaze acknowledges the financial challenges facing the library system, which has seen its use grow and its funding shrink, she disagrees that cafes are the answer.

"The problem with it is that there are very few examples of successful coffee shops in libraries across the country, except when they're located in a main urban environment with a lot of foot traffic," she said. "They're not really financially viable."

A 2010 survey of 408 public libraries by Library Journal found that the median revenue from onsite coffee shops was $2,500 a year, though it noted that "amounts vary widely by library size." Marcia Warner, past president of the Public Library Association, said that private coffee shops are fairly common in libraries nationwide, but other strategies could be more profitable.

"We've had a coffee shop here for about 10 years now, and every two years they ask for a decrease in their rent," said Warner, who also runs the library system in Grand Rapids, Mich. "I know several libraries that rent space to nonprofits. We're getting a better rate from nonprofits than we are from the coffee shop."

mconnolly@washingtonexaminer.com

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Matt Connolly

Examiner Staff Writer
The Washington Examiner