I can never tell what will get a reaction or generate a large amount of reader mail. For instance, I was sure the column two weeks ago about...
I can never tell what will get a reaction or generate a large amount of reader mail. For instance, I was sure the column two weeks ago about how a friend and I made up stupid names would capture the imagination of all my readers. But there was no response at all.
On the other hand, it’s a surprise that people still write to sing praises of how libraries are great alternatives to Internet cafes.
I still disagree. People may come to Internet cafes for the access, but they stay for the action. There is a lot of socializing in libraries, but it is by necessity different from what takes place in an all-night brightly lit computer joint.
While most reader mail included personal anecdotes or provided arguments why libraries are viable cafe alternatives — or not — Arthur Hrin, of Kent, came up with an authentic business idea: to establish cybercafes in or adjacent to the libraries. He writes:
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“They could be revenue generators, not just revenue consumers and, if done correctly, would be an excellent opportunity for small businesses to become established and have a captive audience of those waiting for ‘free’ time inside. It could also serve as an excellent resource for late and off-hour library visits.”
It’s actually a great idea. Imagine a small, comfortable room with enabled wi-fi and half a dozen connected computers. The hourly rate would be reasonable, and it would be open early to late.
It could also make a profit. Not a huge amount, perhaps, but enough to help a local library’s bottom line so it can buy more books, hire more people or just stay open a few more hours.
The success of such a venture depends on developing the network. The Seattle Public Library could attach a cheap cafe on to each branch, and it won’t really mean anything until it gains a critical mass. Until there is a Web page that shows the direct path between a bus station and a library, this can never be a resource for a traveler.
E-mail is an important daily resource. But people are still looking for the best way to stay connected — one that is cheap, convenient and capable. Someone should organize the libraries to provide these services, so that in five years or so you can amble into a new town, get off your horse in front of the library and know the connection will be a righteous one.
Someone with an actual business degree could argue this point and leave me in the dust. There could be tons of reasons why this won’t work. But it really can’t lose. Libraries don’t care about making money; they only seek to raise the average intellectual level. They could establish an Internet cafe network and break even, or make a small profit. Or they could make a pile of money by offering a needed service at a reasonable price.
The possibilities are pretty exciting. Profit from the cafes could make it possible to extend library hours. So you come in to check e-mail and stay to actually read something substantial.