Welcome! To LibraryLand. You can do anything in LibraryLand.
August 15, 2019 11:16 AM   Subscribe

Adam Zand and Greg Peverill-Conti base their office-less PR company out of whatever public library they happen to be near; they've been to over 200 so far. So, they welcome you to their side-project, LibraryLand! Their ongoing mission: to visit all 483 libraries in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts (and some in other states) and rate them on eleven criteria, sometimes providing reviews, while also collecting stories and learning lessons about exploring and working from libraries. [via who else but jessamyn]
posted by not_on_display (27 comments total) 25 users marked this as a favorite
Hurray for reviewing libraries!

I hope their parking/transportation rating considers bike parking, benches (pedestrian parking), and access to public transit.
posted by aniola at 11:35 AM on August 15, 2019 [4 favorites]

I think this is supposed to be a feel-good story. The pictures are nice, as is the positive tone, but the underlying concept makes me itch. Feel free to skip this comment if your reaction was wholly positive.

I have some tips to add to this site's!

(1) Support your local community's infrastructure WITH CASH MONEY. Not just the occasional "generous" one-off donation, but by supporting tax increases needed to maintain and improve the libraries.

(2) No, actually, do not talk in reading rooms unless they are explicitly designated as okay for such. Other people are doing their own work.

(3) Respect the local residents. You are no more entitled to be there than anyone else. That means not trying to get the homeless guy with the cart turfed out because you're not comfortable leaving your laptop near him. (Not saying this happened, but don't think it couldn't.)

(4) Do not treat a library like a place that is supposed to be competing in a marketplace to earn your business. It isn't. "Reviews" of their suitability for coworking are in questionable taste.

Basically, it will be the last straw if upper-middle-class entrepreneur wannabes descend like locusts on local public libraries because FREE CO-WORKING SPACE AND RESOURCES and gentrify them, too. That's the direction this site is unfortunately pointing towards, because, while they certainly recommend appropriate forms of immediate good manners in using the spaces, no one seems to be thinking about the deeper implications of what they're doing.

I wish we didn't live in a world where this had to be my reaction, instead of just, "Yay! More people using libraries!"
posted by praemunire at 11:39 AM on August 15, 2019 [38 favorites]

Hiya -- I think this post came about because I had lunch with Greg yesterday when he was visiting a library near me. He's a lovely guy and we had a great couple-hour chat about a lot of things. Felt like I'd step in here early.

I hope their parking/transportation rating considers bike parking, benches (pedestrian parking), and access to public transit.

They very much do. One of the things we talked about was libraries that are in large cities but, for whatever reason, super inaccessible to public transportation (and usually have no parking). This is no good. Having a library that is only for foot traffic isn't really what libraries are set up to do nowadays (their service areas are too large), so yes, low marks for no bus access!

"Reviews" of their suitability for coworking are in questionable taste.

I was concerned, initially, that these reviews would basically just be another way to give more stars to more affluent libraries, but that hasn't turned out to be the case. These guys have gotten feedback that doing at least a baseline assessment of a library's collection would also be useful to people wanting to co-work. Because look, two things are important here.

1. WeWork sucks and is terrible (as well as too expensive) and if we want to help people "live the dream" of having a work at home job (a move that often encourages families and other people who couldn't swing 9-to-5s for various reasons) they need a good space to do that with broadband and maybe that gets them interacting with their community (which is a huge criticism of cowork spaces, very samey)

2. Public libraries are often seen as being only "for" people who can't afford books or a place to live. These people are absolutely part of the library's service population and most libraries do a good job offering a safe space, clean restrooms, comfortable places to sit, and low hassle for people who aren't hassling anyone else. However, many if not most communities are made up of a wide variety of people and it's useful for libraries to find ways to serve people in more affluent demographics in ways that solve problems for them too, and aren't exclusionary $100/plate fundraisers. People who see the library as solving a problem for them, are people more likely to be willing to pay for maintenance and upkeep of a library's building and staff and not write it off because there's nothing there for them. Private study rooms where you could take a conference call are also places people could facetime with distant family, get telehealth or therapy consults, or videochat with incarcerated relatives.

As someone who works in a library, we're actually pretty stoked at the occasional coworkers who like to use the history room to get work done. We have a few "codes of conduct" about long/loud phone calls and other things to keep it from being an issue. We're rural so we're unlikely to be seen as someone's permanent office in a way that would be a problem (more suburban libraries need to deal with issues like paid tutors demanding places to do their work etc). Libraries are pretty good at creating equitable policies that ensure that everyone has access to their resources.

Not at all saying there aren't cautionary tales in some of the things these guys are talking about, if you think about extrapolating it forward, just that in the library community the concerns about how to do your thing in 2019 are varied and complex and guys like this seem to be more part of possible solutions than possible problems.
posted by jessamyn at 11:59 AM on August 15, 2019 [35 favorites]

However, many if not most communities are made up of a wide variety of people and it's useful for libraries to find ways to serve people in more affluent demographics in ways that solve problems for them too, and aren't exclusionary $100/plate fundraisers. People who see the library as solving a problem for them, are people more likely to be willing to pay for maintenance and upkeep of a library's building and staff and not write it off because there's nothing there for them.

Yes, I get that, in theory, it's always better to have services used by the whole community so that the whole community supports them. I would very much prefer to be in that "yay, everybody in the library!" world. Unfortunately, what we see playing out these days is that, when it comes to any space privileged people occupy, they will ultimately demand that it cater to their needs at the expense of everyone else (see, e.g., effective private-public park takeovers), and, boy, there aren't many noncommercial spaces that try to treat all their patrons equitably left in the U.S. except for public libraries. So I hope that this site encourages affluent people to think of libraries as nice places while continuing to keep their businesses out of them.

WeWork sucks and is terrible (as well as too expensive)

I don't think it's the public library's job to solve the problem of any market failures in the commercial office space sector for actual companies that could actually afford to pay for space, as it seems this one probably could. I recognize it's hard to allow for genuine small-scale commercial-related use of public libraries by local residents while screening out companies that just don't want to pay rent, but we really don't need to worry about the latter.
posted by praemunire at 12:16 PM on August 15, 2019 [6 favorites]

Library of Congress gets a 5 for completeness.
Well, duh....
posted by MtDewd at 12:24 PM on August 15, 2019 [3 favorites]

I would very much prefer to be in that "yay, everybody in the library!" world.

It's the world I live in. It's nice.

I really don't think this is an "IMAX in the Smithsonian" type of situation (#stillmad) but it's a question on which reasonable people disagree: how much time, space, money, and attention libraries should be giving to various stakeholders, when they're all finite resources.
posted by jessamyn at 12:26 PM on August 15, 2019 [6 favorites]

The impossible is unknowable at LibraryLand.
posted by pelvicsorcery at 12:45 PM on August 15, 2019 [5 favorites]

You can do anything at all... in LibraryLand.
posted by ikahime at 12:49 PM on August 15, 2019 [7 favorites]

I've been using several public and academic libraries as office space for the past few years, thanks to bad home bandwidth and (partly as a result) cross-country moving. So I wish I'd known these guys earlier. I resonate with most of their assessments.

Working professionally from libraries - as opposed to browsing, doing research, etc. - has generally been excellent.

The biggest challenge has been finding spaces where I could conduct audio and video calls. Not all libraries have rooms for this.
posted by doctornemo at 1:10 PM on August 15, 2019

I was surprised not to see access to power sockets mentioned at all. To me this is what basically makes or breaks a library and where I am in the UK at least its extremely variable.

I went into one newly built library and it was lovely with lots of nice displays but absolutely no power sockets for people to use and i couldn't help wonder if that, in this conservative town, wasnt a deliberate choice. It meant I wouldnt be able to work there as i dont have enough of a power source at home to keep my laptop charged.

Similarly I've been to libraries where you're allowed to use power sockets but have to ask for some weird charge controller at the desk and it feels slightly punitive and embarrassing.

Some libraries have a few power sockets accidentally positioned across the library some of which happen to overlap with seating and yes there are definitely always people who most people would not notice are quietly waiting at a non power socket table for whoever is blithely sat at that table but not using the power socket to move. And me wondering if I look too scruffy to get away with moving a table to be near a power socket.

And some libraries have well thought out power sockets where there's plenty for everyone, or even unoffical setups where I'm guessing mostly vulnerably housed people can leave their battery packs charging during the day. To me this makes the library feel much more welcoming as well as being more useful.
posted by mosswinter at 1:12 PM on August 15, 2019 [6 favorites]

PR firm run out of rotating public libraries? That gives me an idea for my new day-care that works the same way. After all, you're allowed to bring kids to the library!

So, mark me down in the "slightly distasteful" camp, but it may just be cane-waving reactionariness on my part. It seems like if it became the rule rather than the exception it would not be entirely good.
posted by Gilgamesh's Chauffeur at 1:13 PM on August 15, 2019 [3 favorites]

I work in a branch library that very much tries to be a "yay, everybody in the library" place. We have all sorts of people who come in on the regular, and I can say without hesitation that I would take entrepreneurs over tutors any day of the week.

This blog doesn't make me grumpy - which is unusual because so many things do. But it seems pretty specific to me, overall - I mean, yes, these guys can review libraries from their perspective, but libraries are so many things to so many people that reviewing them seems futile, for lack of a better word. Also, as they point out, some aspects of their reviews are not exactly fixable. So this seems like a cool hobby blog for them but not anything that would be useful in any sense for librarians.
posted by lyssabee at 1:39 PM on August 15, 2019 [3 favorites]

A friend of mine who works in a library told me about the guy who came in and set up his business next to the children’s section and then had the gall to complain about the kids making noise.

How do these people compare to the other people who spend hours in a cafe running their business on the free WiFi with only a couple buck purchase of a single coffee?
posted by njohnson23 at 1:59 PM on August 15, 2019 [2 favorites]

In SF all our branches have charging stations on every table. Like a little pop up outlet in the center with 8 or so areas to plug in. Not to mention other wall outlets. SF libraries are gold I tell you.
posted by Homo neanderthalensis at 2:09 PM on August 15, 2019 [1 favorite]

They really seem to love libraries. I think it would be different if they were trying to make libraries into a WeWork type thing that they're not, but it seems like they just enjoy using the library. Assholes can show up in any situation, but it doesn't strike me as intrinsically wrong to use libraries for work, as long as you're respectful to the people around you. Isn't that the whole point of a public space? That you don't have to justify using it?

I'm also speaking as someone who has worked out of a public library when I had a remote job. I liked it. I was quiet and I kept to myself, and I got to be a little less isolated.
posted by shapes that haunt the dusk at 2:14 PM on August 15, 2019 [6 favorites]

I've always used local libraries when I've traveled for work. They might look different, but they always feel the same. I get my work done, and get to learn more about the place I'm visiting.

Beats the hell out of hotel business centers, anyway.
posted by asperity at 2:39 PM on August 15, 2019 [1 favorite]

Basically, it will be the last straw if upper-middle-class entrepreneur wannabes descend like locusts on local public libraries because FREE CO-WORKING SPACE AND RESOURCES and gentrify them, too.

Isn't this site more likely to encourage working class people with small businesses, mostly sole traders, to use libraries? I mean, those are the people who actually have the need. Do you really think a purposeless fad is more likely than ordinary people getting better use from our libraries? It seems like you're so annoyed about a bad thing that might conceivably happen that you're entirely distracted from the good things that are much more likely.
posted by howfar at 2:43 PM on August 15, 2019 [3 favorites]

Hey there, everyone, I'm GregPC, one of the guys behind Library Land. We totally come to this from a positive place of respect - and love - for libraries. This whole thing started as an unexpected - but wonderful - result of finding myself out of work in my 50s. (I'm a lot of things but I can say with certainty that no one would mistake me for an "upper-middle-class entrepreneur wannabe.")

Adam (the other half of the project) and I started working in libraries because we needed a place that was more or less equidistant for each of us. That turned out to be the Newton Free Library in Newton, Mass. It was great - we could park for free, there was wifi, we could use a study room. We decided to do it again, but because we're curious by nature we wanted to check out another library, and another and another and another. We started noticing little differences and rating them informally. At a certain point, maybe after 15 or 20, the completionist gene kicked into gear and we decided to try to visit all of them.

The more we visited, the more we came to realize what an absolutely critical civic role libraries play in their communities. We saw programs for kids, for immigrants, for sports fans, music fans, English-language learners, job seekers, etc. We saw services like the Library of Things and makerspaces and business centers and tax help. We saw all kinds of people, kids and caregivers, seniors, people with disabilities, tutors, and jokers like us who just want to sit and type.

It was (and continues to be) a wonderful experience and it's one we have been trying to describe and share with as many people as possible. We believe in libraries, we believe they are there for every member of the community, we believe that their services need to reflect and respond to the needs of their communities and that their services should be equally available and accessible to all.
posted by GregPC at 2:43 PM on August 15, 2019 [31 favorites]

Damn, what a cool and useful project. I wish I could do something similar in my city. The city regularly evaluates its libraries but nothing as well design like this.
posted by Foci for Analysis at 2:53 PM on August 15, 2019 [1 favorite]

Welcome to MeFi, Greg!
posted by cortex at 3:10 PM on August 15, 2019 [4 favorites]

For boring reasons, I was in Las Vegas with a nearly dead phone battery, stressed about plans that weren't working. I used my remaining power to find a library and went there, the neighborhood increasing in sketchiness as I walked. Tiny library in a community center. They welcomed me even though I explained my home library is in Maine, let me use a computer, charge my phone, and hang out. They were busy helping patrons with homework, job searches, books, movies, stuff. I spent a couple hours, then got an Uber and went to an event. It was a haven exactly when I needed one.

On Mt Desert Island, we got lost because cell signal(gps maps) was crap. Found the (closed) Southwest Harbor Public Library; the password was in the name of the public wifi, strong enough outside to download maps, and we got to our campground. Rescued.

My local library's pretty good as libraries go, which means it's a fantastic resource, well worth my taxes. And that's what I tell my town councilor.
posted by theora55 at 3:42 PM on August 15, 2019 [5 favorites]

my new day-care that works the same way. After all, you're allowed to bring kids to the library!

In my town, private religious for-profit daycares take over nearby public playgrounds, for many hours per week.

I don’t love that. It’s complicated. Isn’t there a difference between public use and private exploitation of public areas in pursuit of private profit?

As an alternate example:in the US National Forests, commercial use and public use are both allowed but regulated differently. You can camp or you can harvest firewood for sale, but you have different limitations and fees for those cases.
posted by SaltySalticid at 5:38 PM on August 15, 2019 [2 favorites]

As someone in MA with several libraries about an equal distance away, I was excited to see whether they had given the top score to my top pick. Alas, no! Largely because they don’t take schedules into account.

The two biggest contenders for me are Bolton and Hudson. If you’ve been to Bolton public library, you know it is shiny and new and cozy and quaint and just a great space to be in. But. It’s hardly open at all on the weekend! Traffic to it is terrible so there’s no quick stops after work (I haven’t checked in a while if it’s even open in the evenings... last time I checked it was different times in different days). Whereas Hudson is a little dogeared and musty but it’s open til 830 most weekdays and all daySaturday. Winner hands down because I can actually get thru the front door. (Usually to pick up my interlibrary loan!)

And I don’t know what they’re basing transportation ratings on. Bolton is pretty much car only - streets in Bolton are not safely bikeable by most people. And even by car, it’s on a busy state road that gets very congested weekends and evenings. Streets in Hudson aren’t tons better but the library is near the rail trail....

Anyway I’m not sure about the whole idea of ratings anyway but take these particular ones with grain of salt.
posted by Tandem Affinity at 7:01 PM on August 15, 2019 [2 favorites]

I lived in Colorado Springs one winter. The library was open, and busy, until 9pm. It was great.
posted by theora55 at 8:10 AM on August 16, 2019 [1 favorite]

The Lawrence Library in Pepperell, MA was my childhood library and it was wonderful to see it again here. Looks as grand as I remember. It has a very special place in my heart and I'm glad to see it is still being well used and well taken care of.
posted by davros42 at 9:40 AM on August 16, 2019 [4 favorites]

I wanted also to give a shout out to Watertown Free Public Library, which—although ranked low on LibraryLand's charts as a place to work-work (which I can understand because it's always hoppin')—is still a great place to find all sorts of graphic novels, community events, book readings (I had no idea Susan Orleans was there one day and she walked right by me and I was like, "Was that...?"), a makerspace, plenty study carrells and meeting spaces, Movie Mondays... And the staff are mostly friendly (except a couple circ people who are grumps). And it's open 'til 9 on weekdays, 7 on Saturdays, and 5 on Sundays. Overdue fees are low, too.

Anyway, WFPL beats the crap out of my hometown library (equidistant from home), which (rightfully so) ranked waaaaay low on the chart. It's old, shabby, has mostly wobbly chairs, the children's room is in a different section of the building entirely and has different hours... not really a good place to do anything but get your ILL'ed books and GTFO. The entire staff is grumpy, and their overdue fines are exorbitant. (And if your ILL is a graphic novel, chances are they'll deliver it to the children's room and not the main circ desk, and the circ people will not get your ILL from the children's room if it's closed.

But overall, the Minuteman Library Network in Eastern MA — I couldn't ask for more. The chart also made me want to revisit my old hometown libraries in Peabody and Danvers.
posted by not_on_display at 9:13 PM on August 16, 2019 [1 favorite]

I know the Danvers library director, I bet we could get a tour of the basement!
posted by jessamyn at 9:04 AM on August 17, 2019 [1 favorite]

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