2008-01-02 / Front Page

A real hot spot - library offers coffee bar, free wireless Internet

by JESSICA L. FINCH Associate Editor

Cheryl Stevens tries a cup of herb tea from the new coffee bar inside the Audubon Library. Cheryl Stevens tries a cup of herb tea from the new coffee bar inside the Audubon Library. When you think of a coffee bar, aisles of books and wireless Internet, does a big-name bookstore come to mind?

What about when a fresh brewed cup of coffee is only a $1, the books are free and so is the Internet? Can't find that at a chain store.

The Amherst library system is revamping itself, making the buildings more user friendly, casual and comfortable.

In 2008, the four libraries in town will be making some big changes.

The Audubon branch, Amherst's main library, has opened a coffee bar, located at the entrance to the library.

For $1, patrons choose from a variety of flavors and brew a personal cup of coffee. A selection of teas is also available.

The service started in November, and Library Director Roseanne Butler Smith said it took some time for patrons to understand it's OK to take covered beverages into the library.

For decades, food and beverages were taboo in libraries, but that's all changing. Smith and the Amherst Library Board of Trustees are trying to create a coffeehouse atmosphere where patrons want to stay and relax and enjoy a cup of coffee or tea while reading.

"People first looked at it with a suspicious eye; it's such an odd thing," Board President Jeffrey Voelkl said. "We made a point to walk around and pick up the signs that said, 'No food or beverage.'"

After a trial run, it's expected that the other three town branches - Eggertsville, Clearfield and Williamsville - will also host coffee bars. Smith expected Clearfield's to open as early as February.

First came the coffee; next will come cozy.

Voelkl said the board is offering the job of creating "cozy" to interior designers who are asked to donate their time and materials to recreate the atrium in the Audubon branch.

"We are looking for decorators interested in accepting this challenge," he said.

Recognition would be provided in return for volunteer work.

When asked what ambience the board wanted, Voelkl said that was up to the designer.

"We don't want them to feel limited. We are giving them carte blanche to create a user-friendly space," he said.

Anyone interested in participating should call 688-4919.

The overall goal is to redesign the atrium in the Audubon branch with new, comfortable seating to invite patrons to lounge with a newspaper, magazine or book.

"We are making the library a place people want to come and stay, not just check out a book and leave," Smith said.

She said the Amherst libraries have a high usage rate, and these are efforts to make them a more inviting place.

While children and adults make up the high usage numbers, teenagers are noticeably absent.

Smith and the board brainstormed ideas to attract young adults to use the library.

"I have three teenagers, and I am always looking for something positive for them to do. I know other parents have the same feelings," she said.

Once the stores have restocked from the holidays, the library will be purchasing a Wii, Guitar Hero and Dance Dance Revolution. All three are video game systems that require physical movement to control the players on the screens.

The systems will be part of teen nights and activities.

Smith said the libraries are also forming a club that would review new CD releases and possibly other topics, such as movies. The club will be housed at the Clearfield branch.

"We really need to bring back an important part of the community," Smith said about increasing teenage use.

The new changes are a compliment to the tried and true library programs and book loaning.

While free books have been the norm for years, the Amherst libraries now offer free wireless to all library card holders. Patrons with laptops will be asked to insert their library card number to connect to the Internet.

Other minor changes will be seen in the libraries, such as making the CDs available without asking for assistance, all in an effort to make the process easier and more inviting.

Smith said the libraries have always tried to be progressive and implement changes to respond to patrons' needs.

Proceeds from the coffee bar will help fund programs throughout the Amherst library system.

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