Relaxed rules let you eat, drink and even make noise



jeff mcintosh


Jean Ludlam, youth services manager for the Calgary Public Library, enjoys a coffee. Libraries are shedding their stodgy image, and allowing people to eat and drink while visiting.

Libraries have never exactly been the embodiment of cool. But with anime, open mike events, karaoke, murder mystery nights, sleepovers and even the odd Xbox 360, libraries across the country aren’t what they used to be.

It’s part of a conscious effort to shed their stodgy image, drawing teens and youth in to libraries and keeping them as lifelong patrons.

At many libraries, gone are the iconic images of the crotchety librarians shushing those who make noise and banning food or drinks.

Libraries are taking a cue from bookstores that have coffee shops in them and have relaxed their normally stringent rules. The Calgary Public Library has a cafe in its main branch, serving lattes and light food such as muffins and soup.

“We have certainly relaxed our rules ... around eating and drinking in the library because we want people to come in and stay,” said Jean Ludlam, a library manager.

That’s partially aimed at students who want to have a coffee or snack while they study. “If we want to attract people we have to kind of get over ourselves about eating and drinking.”

The Vancouver Public Library is also relaxing its eating and drinking rules.

Janice Douglas, the director of youth services and community relations, said it was about time, because people were sneaking contraband in anyway.

She said it’s part of a concerted effort to draw youth to the library. “If we want to relate to kids we can’t just sit back and think they should be here, because they’re not going to come — not for pleasure on their own,” she said.

In Vancouver, the public library has offered sleepovers for a small group of teens. Spending all night in the library with storytelling and snacks gives the teens a sense of ownership of that space, Douglas said.

Some libraries are also relaxing no-noise rules to entice more teenage patrons.

There are battles of the bands, open mike nights, karaoke nights, hip hop dance workshops, murder mystery nights and video games — all of which create their fair share of noise.

One branch of the public library in Thunder Bay, Ont., even has an Xbox 360.

“A lot of libraries are trying to reach out to teens more, so it is becoming more common,” said Ruth Hamlin-Douglas, the children and youth services librarian. The Xbox 360 decidedly ups the library’s “coolness factor,” an important issue for teens.

“When I’ve talked in a high school and asked how many have library cards, a lot of them do,” Hamlin-Douglas said. “(But) when I ask how many attend the library regularly I see kids who I know they’re here regularly and they don’t necessarily put their hand up.”

One way the library community is trying to counteract that phenomenon is by having youth advisory groups, who tell the libraries what they’re interested in, rather than having their preferences dictated to them.

Thomas George, 16, has been a member of the Youth Advisory Group at one Toronto library branch for three years. He tries to encourage his friends to visit the library by explaining that it’s about more than just borrowing books.

“Some people think that it’s for smart people, like nerds, but many of my friends actually come to the library more often now,” he said.

The teens-telling-teens approach is working, said Katherine Palmer, an area manager at the Toronto Public Library. Last year the library saw a nearly 12 per cent increase in the number of teens registering for library cards.