The ‘Starbucks effect’ and the changing role of our libraries

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The card catalogue may be gone, but it’s not forgotten

For those of us out there who are devoted users of our local public libraries, the restoration of Sunday hours last week at Central Library and 8 other branches is an exciting development in what has been a dark period of cutbacks.

Thanks to voter approval of Measure L in 2011, the 30 percent budget slash that wrought havoc on the system during the recession has been corrected.

Seemed like a good time to check in with the relatively new city librarian, John Szabo, who arrived here from a similar role in Atlanta in 2012.

And while we were at it, we caught up with Margaret Donnellan Todd, who helms the County Library system, which sprawls across 50 cities and unincorporated areas in the region. Though their funding streams are different, the two systems have something important in common: They serve the two largest populations in the nation.

While traffic is bustling at all the branches, there’s a growing demand for digital and virtual services. Todd told me if you calculated the use of e-books available over the county system, it would count as the fourth trafficked “branch.”

“Thirty years ago people primarily came in and checked books out and left,” she said. “Now we have a whole lot of people coming in who want a comfy chair and a place to do their reading.” Patrons today, she said, look at the physical library more like a “third place” outside of home or office, where they can do work, ask for assistance, use wi-fi or computers: “It’s the Starbucks effect.”