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ISSUE 117 VOL 6 PUBLISHED 10/31/2003

Library considers caffeine

By Jane Dudzinski
News Editor

Friday, October 31, 2003

The scent of coffee might soon be wafting amidst the bookshelves in Rolvaag Memorial Library, as St. Olaf is currently considering adding a coffee shop to the library.

Right now, an informal task force is still mulling over this possibility, which would take at least a year to implement, according to Dean of Students Greg Kneser. A preliminary survey was sent out to 200 students last week to gauge students’ general opinions, as administrators continue to work out the details of the project.

The task force has discussed four plausible locations for the coffee shop, according to Bryn Geffert, college librarian. The newspaper and periodicals room on the fourth floor, the wide hallway near the circulation desk on the main floor and the media microfiche room on the main floor are all possibilities.

Other members of the task force include Pete Sandberg, director of facilities, and Hays Atkins, general manager of Bon Appétit.

One of the main reasons for adding a coffee shop to the library is that it will redefine the cultural center of campus and attract more people to the library in general, according to the proponents of the proposal.

"I have interest [in this project] because the library needs to be a place of socializing and an intellectual center of campus, not just a cloister or retreat," Geffert said. "It is important to have a retreat, but it is also important to have a place for students to talk about what they’re reading."

Another consideration of this plan is that the coffee shop will attract more students back to the library, as research grows increasingly more electronically based.

"There is a concern for the way students do research," Kneser said. "There is a difference between a ‘Google’ search and the resources available in the library."

Kneser also pointed out that moving the Writing Place and the Study Skills Center to the first floor of the library within the last few years greatly improved student usage of these resources. He hopes that a coffee shop in the library might also have a similar effect in attracting students into Rolvaag.

"It gives students another reason to physically be in the library and to do work that is better for their academic experience," Kneser said.

Both Geffert and Kneser also reflected on the "Romper Room," a former coffee shop-like place located where the Kirkegaard Library is now. In the 1980s, it served as a place where the campus often congregated.

"We want to combine the social and academic, and get more people back into the library," Geffert said.

Yet another reason for the addition of a coffee shop is the difficulty in finding a cup of coffee on campus in the late evening. The Cage, the main source of caffeine for students, closes at 8 p.m. daily, and while the Pause remains open until midnight, its main attractions are pizza and milkshakes.

There is, of course, opposition to the addition of a coffeehouse to the library.

"The main concern with people who work in preservation is that coffee will get spilled," Geffert said. "The evidence is that there is very little impact." He also noted that custodians have concerns about more messes to clean up.

Originally, the birth of the coffee shop idea resulted from Kneser’s attention to cultural trends.

"I raised the issue because, as the dean, I pay attention to cultural trends as they relate to the quality of life for students on campus," Kneser said. "I also observe student behavior, and one thing I observed is that students like coffee."

Kneser went on to explain that he has seen how popular bookstores such as Barnes and Noble and Borders have become "social gathering places."

Geffert also added that "coffee shops now have a key place in society."

Throughout the nation, colleges and universities have been adding coffee shops to their libraries in the last few years, including schools such as University of Virginia, Eastern Michigan University and Texas Christian University.

As the planning process moves forward, Kneser said that the student surveys will have a "huge impact" on the future of the coffee shop.

If there is not overwhelming support for this addition to the library, Kneser said that the implementation of a coffee shop will be careful "not to encroach on areas of true importance … and make sure that comfortable, quiet places continue to exist."

Currently, the task force’s main concern is whether this plan will go into effect. Until that decision is final, the group will continue to consult the library staff, custodians and students on the topic.

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