Library Branches in Airports and Malls

mall library

This article, from American Libraries Direct, discusses the growth of library branches within airports. These branches take the form of kiosks, from which one can check out e-books. For travelers who need something to read on a trip and would prefer to avoid lugging around a print book from a newsstand, a library kiosk is a great convenience. Having a library presence in an airport is not only a creative way for libraries to promote their presence, but also, in the case of international airports, advertises civic institutions to visitors from other lands. About only a half-dozen airports in the U.S.–most of them large international ones–currently have library branches, but the number is expected to grow. Airports, however, aren’t the only “non-traditional” location for branch libraries, however.

Malls are another location that has seen a growing library presence in recent years. (In my personal experience, I have visited just one mall library, at the Genesee Valley Center in Flint, Michigan.) While some library “traditionalists” ridicule the notion of placing what is supposed to be a beacon of enlightenment into a bastion of materialism, the idea makes sense on a number of levels, especially since attracting patrons is becoming ever more crucial to libraries’ survival these days. Branch libraries have been around for years, of course, but they have often been freestanding buildings in residential areas; outside of neighborhood children needing a place to hang out after school, these locations are unlikely to draw many other people, beyond those who have a specific intent to use that particular library.

Putting a library branch into the middle of a commercial development, however, draws people who may have had no intention of using a library on a shopping trip but who find it a convenient place to stop and rest (and, perhaps, find a good book or two). Also, since larger malls tend to be in the outlying areas of cities, locating a branch there makes library use more feasible for those who, for whatever reason, do not make the trip to the downtown location. An added benefit of having a library branch in a mall is that it gives the library’s system an opportunity to build relationships with businesses, who play a crucial role in the community outreach, such as offering classes on various hobbies, that is such a large part of libraries’ missions these days. And, unlike in an airport, the majority of the visitors to a mall are likely to be locals, meaning that a higher proportion of the people who use a mall library are likely to continue using the library’s services outside of the mall, including visiting the main branch.

Even if one does not have an interest in browsing books, one can still use a mall library for working on a personal laptop or a library computer. (The library might be one of the few places in a mall in which one can find much peace and quiet, particularly if the mall lacks a sit-down restaurant or café.) One key to the success of any mall library is putting it close to the entrance, so that shoppers will be hard-pressed to miss it on their way into, or out of, the mall. The branch of the Genesee District Library located in the Flint mall is right next to one of the entrances and has always been busy when I’ve dropped by.

Expanding the discussion to academic libraries, would putting a branch into a mall be feasible? Interestingly, the University of Phoenix has a “campus” in that same mall in Flint. While it might be hard to include a physical library as part of a college or university’s mall presence, this is where the kiosk comes in. Not only would it promote a library’s services, but it would also make current and potential students more aware of a key library resource, e-books, that is underutilized. Although it is hard to know the extent to which kiosk users might build on their use of e-books, or a library’s services more generally, students and others would at least become aware that an academic library has more to offer than just dry print books for writing papers. At the very least, having a presence of some kind at a mall–still a major hangout for high school students–enables a library to play a role in recruiting prospective students to a college or university; this gives libraries another opportunity to prove their continuing usefulness to the larger institutions of which they are a part.

Any thoughts on the feasibility of having an academic-library presence of some kind–whether it be a kiosk or a small physical location–in a mall?

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