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More and more, academic and medical libraries are tossing aside old taboos and offering up coffee to their customers.









Check This Out: Lattes, Now at the Library

From left, Channel Stansbury, Anthony DiGeorgio and Angel Whittaker staff Books & Beans, the Women’s Board’s new coffee bar at the Welch Medical Library.

Imagine a comfortable, quiet place to read, the silence broken only by a turning page, the air redolent with the aroma of freshly brewed coffee. This must be Barnes & Noble, right? Wrong. It’s Books & Beans, the new coffee bar in the renovated lobby of the Welch Medical Library.

More and more, academic and medical libraries are tossing aside old taboos and offering up coffee to their customers. With Books & Beans, which opened Jan. 12, the Welch now is no exception. Situated in space that was once dimly lit and overpowered by a hulking service desk, the café creates a more open, welcoming library entrance. With its tasteful, understated design, it dovetails nicely with the Welch’s neoclassical style. Open from 8 a.m. to 3:30 p.m., Books & Beans is open to all, library users as well as the community at large.

Books & Beans is operated by the Women’s Board. This organization was selected from a field of three bidders, in part because it funnels all its profits into patient care at Hopkins Hospital. It also has a good track record: Its three other coffee bars (at the Outpatient Center, Weinberg and Green Spring Station) netted $235,000 in FY03. Finally, the group was willing to tailor its services to the Welch’s needs, says Will Bryant, associate director of the Welch. “We wanted to have a conservative type of operation, and the Women’s Board was happy to work with that.”

To that end, the menu features simply gourmet coffees, cold beverages, snacks, breakfast selections, sandwiches and soup. “We don’t want to over-merchandise,” says Randy Fischbach, business manager of the coffee bars. “There’ll be no racks of chips. We want Books & Beans to match the lobby’s decor—not some retail 7-11.”

Now for the big question: Will the Welch break that final taboo and actually permit patrons to take food and drink into its collection areas? Across town, at the University of Maryland’s Health Sciences Library, people may take covered drinks, but no food, from the café into the library. Ditto for the popular Café Q at Homewood’s Eisenhower Library. At the Pratt’s Central Library, which has no café, food and drink are not allowed in the door. At the Welch, however, the answer is a resounding yes: You can take it with you.

It’s what patrons want, says Welch Director Nancy Roderer, who still cannot forget the day that point was driven home to her. It happened at the Yale Medical Library, where she was formerly director. David Kessler, the newly arrived dean, paid her a call. “The first words out of his mouth were: ‘We have to allow coffee in the library.’ I thought, Well, isn’t that interesting. Here’s a person who’s new dean of the medical school, and he’s got coffee in the library on his mind.”

Roderer dutifully began allowing coffee but not food. People had been sneaking in food, she knew, but with the new java-friendly attitude, that type of contraband declined. Welch patrons, she expects, will be just as considerate when it comes to what they import into the collection areas from Books & Beans.

A long-term architectural plan, to be completed by 2015, is expected to transform the Welch Medical Library into a repository befitting the 21st century. The bulk of its collections will be electronic; thus space will be freed up for conferences, meetings, and all manner of get-togethers. Books & Beans is one step in that direction.


The Boss

  The Women’s Board is an employer, too: Randy Fischbach and Cathy Mallot.

Known for its success in fund-raising, hailed for its recent $2 million pledge to the new children’s hospital, the 60-member Women’s Board also is an employer of note. More than 25 employees run the board’s business ventures—four coffee bars, two gift shops and the Carry On Shop. Technically, these personnel are employees of Hopkins Hospital and fall under the aegis of Strategic Planning and Market Research. In reality, they are hired, fired and managed by the Women’s Board.

Three years ago, for example, board members interviewed Randy Fischbach for the position of business manager of the coffee bars. The former director of food service at the University’s Applied Physics Laboratory had the daunting experience of meeting with a group of eight women. “If you can put up with this,” they told him, “you can surely handle the job.” As it’s turned out, there’s not been much to “put up” with. Adding new efficiencies to the operation, successfully managing the coffee bars’ 15 employees, Fischbach quickly gained the trust of the board.

“I can’t say enough about board members,” says gift shop manager Cathy Mallot, who has worked for the Women’s Board for 38 years. “They’re always available; they’re not even paid employees. In all my years here, I’ve never had a bad experience. It has been wonderful.”



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