America’s libraries need to be modernized. Call the wine bar.
The United States sleeps on more than just universal health care and widespread bidet use. In cities from Helsinki, Finland to Canberra, Australia, libraries offer more than just a place to take a break between using the fast and free internet and exploring ancient Martian glaciers. They’re packed with cafes and wine bars (yes, really!) that invite you to linger with a culinary experience all their own. Think chickpea bánh mì, wild mushroom soup made from sheathed tufts of wood collected from a nearby forest, and Côtes du Rhône on tap on tap. Not a foil-wrapped slice of cake, a lukewarm cup of Styrofoam filter coffee, or a soggy egg salad sandwich in sight.
Susan Orlean, in her 2018 book, points out that there are more public libraries in the United States than McDonald’s The library book. “They outnumber retail bookstores by two to one.” Libraries is one of the last truly equitable “third places” we have left in the United States, a free meeting place that was more frequented than movie theaters in 2019, according to a Gallup poll. And yet The libraries of our country are a largely undeveloped gastronomic area.
As an experienced library tourist (honorable thanks to the Kansas City Public LibraryThe New York Public Libraryand the Los Angeles Public Library sadly deceased Panda Express), I searched for libraries that served everything from iced lattes to Indonesian tahu goreng. However, what impresses me most is the way international libraries foster an inimitable sense of commensality. A fancy term to describe the act of eating together, commensality was shown to play an overwhelming role in strengthening social order and public health. Above all, sharing an upscale culinary experience increases the feeling of personal satisfactionwhat that proves Eating is not just a means to an end.
I found out that you can eat a very good curry egg salad sandwich at a white clothed communal table right next to the reading room Richelieu bicycle of the French National Library. And that’s just the edge of the library-eating rabbit hole. Helsinki Oodi library The café serves everything from rainbow trout coconut curry to beet and goat cheese lasagne to light, fluffy passion fruit tarts – all labeled with their own climate impact score.
If you’re in Canberra, you can enjoy confit snapper and pan-fried pork belly National Library of Australia‘S Exlibris Cafe, whose table service creates an atmosphere more reminiscent of a living room than a fast-casual restaurant. Embedded in the brutalism of Manila Magsaysay Laureate Library is the speakeasy-inspired Library Café, where you can enjoy spicy sisig with rice, massive slices of Sans Rival mango, and even an espresso margarita (not a martini) in emerald velvet-tufted booths under low, moody pendant lights. It should also come as no surprise that you can enjoy a rooftop Campari spritz at the Caffetteria in Florence wafer library.
Libraries have long been viable, changing shape to serve the needs of their communities far beyond book lending.
But what about the United States? Libraries have long been viable, changing shape to serve the needs of their communities far beyond book lending. Since about the mid-2010s, central library branches from London to Bologna have been offering dining options modeled after the trendy spots in their area. While most major US libraries now offer services and space for activities like 3D printing, sewing machine rentals, or recording equipment to record a podcast, they don’t necessarily showcase their own restaurant (either by not offering a dining option, or by… It’s not Allowed to consume outside food while searching stacks, but change is coming.
“Visitors come to the library just for this food — it’s amazing,” says Emily Duchon, director of library, recreation and culture public library in Sierra Vista, Arizona. The branch, which has existed since 2014, opened the Book Nook Cafe In early 2020, diners can expect Moroccan lentil soup, caramel apple scones, and pressed sandwiches made from house ciabatta loaves — dishes that cost diners between $4 and $10 without relying on government subsidies. “The library café is run by a mother and two daughters team,” says Duchon. “They are former restaurateurs and they bring that perspective and expertise to their restaurant.”
These library cafes are often built on existing space and leased to local vendors, with the library receiving income from rent and utilities, and occasionally a percentage of the profits. The ability to increase foot traffic has led to many other co-benefits, such as increased viewership of programs and revenue from the sale of used books at these cafes, noted Marian Royal of the Milwaukee Public Library. This higher revenue then allows libraries more funds to acquire more diverse titles for their collection.
“Community advancement takes many forms,” says Royal. “Whether a community is being provided with food, information, books, or safe spaces, everything fits together.” After all, libraries are havens that provide important escape routes – and they are constantly evolving. The library is perhaps where many of us first felt autonomy. It has been found that the mere proximity of libraries in a neighborhood creates problems increased trust and connectedness within communities, as well as less traditional contributions to community health. As in the case of the cafes at the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Library in Washington, DC and the Rochester Public Library At the central branch, librarians have turned to local providers who offer training to communities facing employment barriers, allowing for a different level of engagement and upward mobility that Starbucks simply cannot replicate.
Some American libraries even take on catering help. Jose Andres Think Food Group recently consulted on the menu at the MLK Jr. Memorial Library cafe in DCby giving his own definition of “library dinner” with inexpensive dishes that push library cuisine forward, like grilled goat cheese sandwiches and açaí chia parfaits.
The National Library of Australia website Exlibris Cafe (very charmingly) posits that the famous Greek mathematician Eratosthenes would probably not have been able to calculate the circumference of the earth if he had not “from time to time take a bracing cup of wine fresh from the amphora, and a bowl of figs from the Amphora” would have enjoyed the Nile Delta, still warm from the sun.” Libraries have always been proverbial watering holes for the spirit. Why not also strengthen our body and stay a little longer in the oasis?