Ottawa Public Library vs. The Coffee Shops (and one freelancer’s opinion)

Ottawa Public Library vs. The Coffee Shops (and one freelancer’s opinion)
Posted on June 4, 2013 | Catherine Brunelle | Written on June 4, 2013
Letter type:

Author's Note:

Author's Note:

Hi, I’m Catherine. I’m an avid reader and blogger/writer (aka @Bumpyboobs), and I’m totally in love with the concept of libraries. But when it comes to Ottawa Public Libraries, I’m more in love with their online services, and far less enamoured with their public spaces.

With the Ottawa Public Library initiative ‘IMAGINE’ taking place, I think it's time to step forward with the developing economy and embrace the 'coffee shop/open plan office' mentality.

Currently, freelance workers and start-ups need to either join an office space or go to their favourite local cafes when they feel the isolation of working from home. Imagine if our local libraries could offer similar atmospheres of stimulation, connection, and collaboration? I know the potential exists, and I'd love to see it acted upon. In my mind, ‘coffee shops’ aren’t about coffee at all, they’re more about community. Doesn’t the library have similar objectives?

Opinions on how our libraries can developed are currently in debate at, where you can join the discussion.

Dear Ottawa Public Library,

I’m writing this letter today (inspired by Unpublished Ottawa’s platform for ideas) to suggest you need to swing in with the changing times. With that in mind, I think you should go the way of the coffee shops. And since you’re currently collecting ideas and opinions with your campaign, IMAGINE, I thought I’d chime in with my impression.

The majority of my work involves being online and communicating through social media – that means I can work from anywhere in the world. It’s an amazing sort of freedom (I was in Hungary last month and was able to work normally), and yet . . . it’s also really lonely at times. After university ends, where do new connections develop? They often come from a workplace, except that’s difficult when you work from home. Working from home means making a conscious effort to “get out of the house and be around people.”

And so I have a choice: walk up the road to my local library and do some work, or walk down the road to my local coffee shop and do some work. About 95% of the time, I go to the coffee shop, and it’s not because I have an urge to pay two dollars for my cup of tea.

So why choose the coffee shop (or the group workspace, where I pay a membership fee) over a free option?

The answer is community. Now, the library is designed to enrich community, right? You might as well say ‘community’ when you say ‘library’. And yet I don’t feel the freelance/start-up/entrepreneur love when I walk through a library’s doors here in Ottawa. I don’t feel anything at all, really, except a cold draft from the AC.

The truth is, as it stands, the public library makes me feel like an outsider.

And while I’d never suggest you stop making space for families, those wanting to learn languages, people looking for resume help, book clubs, etc., I do think you’d see great results if you tapped into the world of networking, making a comfortable workspace, and encouraging entrepreneurs to your amazing public spaces.

That starts with looking at the coffee shops and following their examples. It might also start with bringing them into your establishment, and getting some feedback on how to make the environment more comfortable. (Ahem, one idea: turn down the air conditioning) And have you heard of the ‘open plan’ concept? I think it would work wonders in a local library setting.

I won’t go on, except to say I hope IMAGINE brings us to a new type of library that supports this emerging community in our capital city. I’d love to see more networking events, more start-up support, more connection to the amazing organizations that already exist like Invest Ottawa, and a place where I can rock up with my computer, grab a hot drink, snuggle into a comfy chair, work on my business, and meet other people who are doing something similar.

Good luck with your reimagining of the Ottawa Public Library. I really do hope you start targeting this creative and emerging group of professionals who are drawn to community like moths to a flame.

Thanks for reading!

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Fantastic idea Catherine! I am in great need of such a service!

I'm not a coffee drinker so I don't go to coffee shops very often, but the library would be a good option if it were, as you say, more welcoming to professionals. There are so many resources available at each library location, on site and online, that it would make an ideal location for a communications hub, as you are suggesting.

Thank you for sharing!