Plan brews to pack library

The Wise Owl Caf

Emily Kaiser

The construction site in Walter Library’s basement resembles any typical renovation on campus, but by the last week of September, a new coffee shop will open.

The Wise Owl Café, which will celebrate its opening Oct. 5, is one of many new additions to the University libraries. It aims to encourage students to use the building facilities and take advantage of the online services, said Christopher James, University Libraries communications director.

The coffee shop is designed to “bring new life to the library,” he said.

“We wanted to set up an environment where people can have the coffee shop experience and where they can talk,” he said. “It’s a way of meeting the needs of the market we have here.”

The coffee shop will be a full-service Java City and will give students additional access to University Dining Services facilities, said Karen Devet, operations director of UDS.

“People are not going to walk too far out of their traffic pattern for food,” she said.

The coffee shop arrives at a time when gate counts at most libraries on campus have decreased slightly, James said. But Walter Library has seen increased numbers.

“People value the physical libraries as a place to connect to each other,” James said. “People want that as much as they want to go to Coffman or a coffee shop.”

Accounting junior Soo Kwon said Walter Library is a much better study area than her University housing.

“I live in the dorms, and this is quieter, so I can concentrate,” she said.

Kwon said the new coffee shop will be a great addition.

“I definitely want coffee when I need to study, especially at night,” she said.

Biology junior Michael Theiler went to the library Wednesday because his Internet access was not working at his house.

Theiler said he prefers working on homework at his house and primarily uses the library’s online services.

“I prefer using the Internet because it’s easier and more convenient,” he said.

Theiler is one of many students the library is trying to cater to as the library online usage numbers continue to rise. The online chat reference page experienced an increase of 800 percent in the past four years, James said.

“It’s true that it’s a priority to get students into the library, but we also recognize that there is a growing need to access things from anywhere,” James said. “It’s not a bad thing people are going online.”

To meet the needs of online visitors, the University is creating the Undergraduate Virtual Library, which will launch sometime this fall, he said.

“We know that no matter how many coffee shops we build, people will want to access our things online,” James said.

The new interface will focus on undergraduates because the current interface was created with high-level researchers and graduate students in mind, he said.

The Web site uses a search engine similar to Google’s, where students can type anything into the search box and retrieve anything the University has to offer online, he said.

“Part of it is that we need to design products people like using,” James said. “People like to use Google because it’s easy and a lot of library Web sites are not simple or easy to use.

“We had to figure out how we can take the best pieces of Google, but have access to deep collections too,” he said.

Despite the increasing popularity of online services, the buildings are still an important tool for students to utilize, James said.

“Undergraduate students in particular don’t think of libraries the same (way) as generations in the past,” he said.

The coffee shop is another outreach to the University community, said Meghan Lafferty, chemistry librarian at Walter Library.

The café will be unique because it is meant to be a learning café, she said.

“The idea is that it’s a space of intellectual stimulation and conversation,” she said.

The coffee shop will have ongoing exhibits and may eventually have live events, such as spoken word and music performances, she said.

The coffee shop could cause problems, said sophomore Kyle Triska, who works in the circulation area of Walter near the site of the future coffee shop.

“I think it will be a little noisy for some of the regular people who like the quiet study area,” he said.

For regular customers of local coffee shops, the convenience and atmosphere can be important.

First-year public health graduate student Stephanie Gaston said she found Espresso Exposé in Stadium Village convenient for studying.

“I like this place, and it seems like a lot of people study here,” she said.

She said she prefers coffee shops because there is more going on.

“This is better than a library, where I would fall asleep,” she said.

“The libraries are not just a place to study, but an access point to materials you can only gain access to by being a part of the University,” James said.

The University library system is the 16th largest academic library in the country, which gives students a huge advantage, he said.

“Students, faculty and staff have the ability to access anything the University has to offer,” he said.