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Ditch Starbucks and work at the library (52tiger.net)
330 points by apress on Feb 8, 2011 | hide | past | web | favorite | 209 comments

Maybe we're lucky in Pittsburgh, but we have the best of both worlds at the main branch of the Carnegie Library. You can take a tour of where I work 2 or 3 days per week:


It's fantastic. It was built by Andrew Carnegie in 1895 and most of it is original. I get inspiration from the 20 foot ceilings and hand made ornamentation everywhere you look. They simply don't build things like this any more. There are quiet reading rooms, large tables, plenty of light, and oh yeah, a Crazy Mocha coffee shop in the building. I use a cell phone dongle on my laptop and most people know that email is my preferred communication method.

If I need a break, I can look at priceless artifacts in the Carnegie museum through the windows in the open stacks. Or just get the world's most disgusting hot dog at the "O" a block away. If I need inspiration, that'll either make me or break me.

One of these days, I'd like to make the claim that some incredible technology of the 21st century was conceived in an edifice borne out of the some of the best technology of the 19th century.

"My aspirations take a higher flight. Mine be it to have contributed to the enlightenment and the joys of the mind, to the things of the spirit, to all that tends to bring into the lives of the toilers of Pittsburgh sweetness and light. I hold this the noblest possible use of wealth." - Andrew Carnegie at the Dedication of Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh, November 5, 1895.

Carnegie built beautiful libraries all throughout the mid-west and northeast. Most universities and cities that were around in the late 19th to early 20th centuries have a Carnegie library or a building in town was a library at one point in time.

The small liberal arts college I attended in PA had a Carnegie library that was converted into an art museum. I took photography and other art classes in the building. It was very small, but an inspiration.

>>The small liberal arts college I attended in PA had a Carnegie library that was converted into an art museum.

Likewise, the small liberal arts school I attended in IN. At the time it was converted, it was structurally in better shape than the "new" library, but unfortunately, quite undersized.

+1 for the clpgh main branch.

The most awesome thing about the extended Carnegie Library system is how quickly I can go from seeing mention of a book (e.g. on HN) to finding it in the catalog and getting it delivered to the branch near my home. ILL is still a bit of a bother in contrast.

The combined catalog of all the libraries in the system has tremendously increased my use of the library, and I always was a library geek.

I used to work (a few years ago) at Sainte-Geneviève library (in Paris), and it was as you said: inspirational. You simply "had to" work once there. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Biblioth%C3%A8que_Sainte-Genevi...

Yes, I remember it well. It's next to the Pantheon. I remember getting those ancient, priceless books that couldn't be found anywhere else.

The second picture in your link reminds me a lot of the NY (City) Public Library reading room. Loved that place when I lived there, one of my favorites. I understand Isaac Asimov did too.

Fully agree - we've got great libraries in Pgh. My main complaint is the very limited hours they have. I'd be there 9-9 everyday if I could. I always thought we should bring back the days of libraries as community centers - not just books. For instance, why isn't there a community workshop in or part of the library system - that's a big part of education...

The British library also has a coffee shop within. Not a bad building, plenty of reading rooms, fairly attractive, too.

Is it good? I was reading about the use of power sockets and it seems like it might be a problem.

And easy to reach from, say, Cambridge via King's Cross.

vow, another pittsburgher. I once used the North hills library and it was really productive. Will have to check out the moon library.

There's a bunch of us around here.

Hey Steve, you got pretty cool website. Was really tempted to enter a password at the bottom :)

Thanks. :) I'm going to make it a real terminal someday...

In my (biased, but well-founded) experience, it comes down to a question of whether I'd rather be distracted by a cute girl or an old man getting reprimanded for looking at dirty pictures.

[bg: I really like libraries - worked at one in the suburbs in high school and have since moved to the city, which exaggerated the weird bits]

One thing that's worth noting: if you're on a college campus, a great place to find some legit quiet time is in departmental libraries, especially the social sciences.

A couple years back, I decided to pay a visit to the campus library during the FISL (international free-software forum) that happens every year in Porto Alegre, Brazil on the PUC (pontifical catholic university) campus. I needed to grab some articles from CACM and their library has full access to the ACM online library, as well as decent wireless, something no tech event quite manages to have.

Porto Alegre is notorious for having a disproportionate number of cute girls. I was on the Engineering floor and, even there, I got distracted several times by them.

So, no, it's not every library that's cute-girl-free.

Unfortunately, they don't serve coffee.

Sounds like a good place to go study abroad...

You'll have to refrain these thoughts. It's a catholic campus ;)

It's a George Carlin pun: "Johnson sends Humphrey a broad (abroad). Details, along with some wild films, after these messages."

"Broad" is an old-fashion slang reference for woman in the US- much like "chick" became later. People who used the term "broad" non-perjoratively are well into their seventies now.

I was under the impression that the only way to use "broad" non-pejoratively is in reference to the actual breadth of something.

That being said, sometimes it's safer to study abroad from afar.

Yes, you can't say it any more... It actually fell out of favor long ago, but originally it wasn't considered all that bad of a term IIRC (I was pretty young).

For some reason I can't reply to alexophile and steveklabnik here, so I'll just leave this:

alexophile: you may be correct about this- I'm too young to remember. But I heard it used by people who had no other signs of misogyny that I ever noticed, which is why I had that impression. Carlin was one of those people to the best of my knowledge.

steveklabnik: But there are terms that you "can't use" now that were never perjorative. The scientific name for the race to which African-Americans belong is "Negro." Sometime in the '60s (I think) the leaders of this ethnic group took offense at the term. So, you can't say that somebody who used the term in, say, the '50s, was necessarily using it perjoratively (although you could make the argument that somebody using it non-scientifically in the '80s may have been).

> For some reason I can't reply to alexophile and steveklabnik here, so I'll just leave this:

If too many replies happen too fast, HN hides the reply link to try and slow down conversation. You can always get around this by clicking the 'link' link, but the idea is to encourage in-depth replies over chatty conversation, so use it wisely!

That said, while some people may have been running around saying "Negro" in a scientific manner, I'm sure many more were using it as a slur. Even then, they may not have intended it to be a slur, but that doesn't mean it's not exposing institutionalized racism; "he's not racist, he's just old."

I see this happening myself with 'gay' and 'faggot.' I have nothing against homosexuals, yet in anger I often use terms that are derogatory to them. It's something I'm working on.

A reporter who wanted to refer to the race of a person would have used the term "Negro" as a neutral term. Not all categorizations are necessarily bad.

But I understand your point, and I think you understand mine, and there's lots of other important stuff to discuss- so, good thread.

It wasn't considered all that bad of a term at the time, but then again, at certain points in history it was socially acceptable to use a variety of ethnic slurs, so...

Right, I think that's more because, at the time, it wasn't all that bad to refer to women pejoratively.

Wait, what? I have never heard "broad" used pejoratively (as a native English speaker of age 21). If anything it's archaic, not offensive.

The good thing with catholicism is that there is always forgiveness for those who repent.

“When I was a kid I used to pray every night for a new bicycle. Then I realised that the Lord doesn't work that way. So I stole one and asked Him to forgive me.”

-Emo Philips

It's in Brazil... even our catholic campuses aren't all that catholic ;)

If you go to confession, you should come prepared.

I'm from Porto Alegre too, I graduated at PUC. Small world.

I came here to post this very thing. When I was working downtown I decided to go to the library during my lunch break. To my surprise there was almost nobody in the library actually reading. However, there were people on every single computer workstation. Glancing over the screens I could see a variety of pornographic images, facebook and myspace pages, and youtube. The library is a great resource, but I was completely pissed off that my tax dollars go to support that.

"but I was completely pissed off that my tax dollars go to support that."

People who can't afford a few hundred dollars for their own computer and the monthly bill for internet access? If you're looking at porn in the library, it's because you can't do it anywhere else, not because you're abusing tax dollars.

Would I like the poor, the disadvantaged, the isolated to be using the library resources my taxes pay for to advance their lives? Hell yeah. Am I going to begrudge them - let alone get pissed off about - them using it to do the things I can do on my phone, on my way to the well-paying job? Hell no.

This is completely and utterly asinine. Not only does this inappropriate use cause a hostile environment for people that legitimately want to use the library, but it lowers the number of available workstations for legitimate use. Just imagine your grandmother or little sister going down to the library to do some research and being uncomfortable in this environment. Think they are going to go back? No, of course they won't. But they will continue to pay tax to fund it. I don't understand how anybody could be 'OK' with this gross misuse of public funds.

When I worked for a public library system (for, not at; I was a library employee), a fair amount of my time was spent watching the public internet stations. Mostly, helping people use the internet, keeping track of who was out of time, etc., but occasionally that meant kicking out people we caught looking at porn.

It's not like it's encouranged. Be realistic. It's usually grounds for banning, and I doubt my library system was unique there.

See also: http://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=759069

Some people spent time on facebook, myspace, flash games, etc., but some people spend lots of time on Hacker News, too. Not sure what your point is, there. It's not like kids were allowed to sit playing flash games all day when people wanted computers for schoolwork (or whatever).

Who said it was encouraged? Every library is different. I'm sure if you go to one out in the burbs it is a lot different than in in the inner city, like I was visiting.

Your tone is making people misconstrue your point.

Perhaps we should pay someone to decide what people are allowed to look at on those computers. Actually, that doesn't seem fair. Perhaps we should pay a committee to decide, and they can hand their decision to an IT department to implement. Well, I suppose adding another responsibility to the library's IT staff will mean we'll have to pay to add a position to the department so they're staffed well enough. There. Problem solved. Funds are no longer being misused. Right?

Because this is the internet, the above probably seems really snarky. It's meant to be a calm, civil anecdote to illustrate my point, but I apologize if it does seem hostile. In any case, I think preventing people from using their library computer time as they see fit 1) will result in upset users due to many false positives, 2) results in more ... "big-brother-ism", if you will, 3) will cost as much money as it saves.

I'd pay a small tax increase of .1 cents to abolish internet pornography in libraries. Call me a party pooper, but there's a time and place, and the place for pornography is definitely not public spaces.

I don't care if there's a nude painting on display, but I do care if there's some hard core humping on a computer monito in a public place where my child can see it... I mean he was just born, give him at least a few years innocence!

You make it sound so easy. Leaving aside the complicated legal question for determining what is and isn't considered pornography* , how would you go about actually doing it? Is internet filtering perfectly reliable? Would hiring several extra library employees specifically to watch the internet stations suffice? Library staff are already trying to prevent people from viewing pornography on the public computers, working within the resources available. Sheesh.

* At the library system I worked at, it was a matter of staff judgement.

I reread my comment after it had been downvoted and realized I was probably not clear at all. I don't care about the downvoting, but I wanted to clear it up so no one reading it felt persecuted or unappreciated.

When I said .1 cents I actually meant a small amount but not a trivial amount per paycheck multiplied by the tax paying population. So around 7 million per year. Not sure if that's significant enough, but it was just a figure off the top of my head meant to demonstrate that by paying a small amount individually we could help the issue.

Anyways, I've over-explained it now... but I felt like a douche when I checked my threads this morning.

I understood where you're coming from. Unfortunately, tax increases for any library services can be a hard sell.

Mainly, I just wanted to point out that it's a quintessential "Small Matter of Programming" (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Small_matter_of_programming) issue in library policy, and people who have never worked for a library can easily underestimate the difficulty. My response was a bit over-bristly, though, sorry.

I'm perfectly happy with staff judgement. If they need it then I vote we pay them for their extra time or another resource to help (well I'm Canadian so my vote only counts up here).

Didn't mean to say it was easy, jus worthwhile.

I see your point. From a different perspective, if the library weren't so complacent on enforcing the rules there would be a need for less workstations, less IT staff, less infrastructure, less management. I guess I look at people surfing porn and youtube on public computers and see that as a 'waste' of money as compared to how it was intended to be used.

If they're anything like every library I've ever worked for or visited in my entire life, they're probably too underfunded and understaffed to perfectly block people from using the public computers to do anything the local policy considers inappropriate. I highly doubt it's a matter of complacency.

In fact, most librarians I know (admittedly not too many) are even more "information should be free" than your average GNU hippie.

These are the places with a sign up in the windows that said "The FBI has not yet raided us," after all.

That matches my experience. Those positions are not contradictory, though. It's about preventing a hostile environment for people who want to use the library, and keeping anybody from monopolizing public resources.

It's true. There's a difference between acknowledging that and getting righteous about 'my tax dollars going to some poor people looking at porn,' that's all I'm saying.

Since when does watching where your money goes make you righteous? Has nothing to do whether I think they are right or wrong for looking at porn. I don't give a shit if people look at porn, or do drugs, or work as a prostitute. What drives me nuts is that this unsanctioned use drives more and more cost every year. If all the people viewing porn at the library were kicked out how many workstations would be rendered unnecessary? Probably a significant number. Those funds that would have been spent on those workstation could be put to use somewhere else, such as local police, fire, sanitation, etc. A rather better use of money in my book. Sorry if that comes off as being 'righteous'.

> Sorry if that comes off as being 'righteous'.

The problem is that you're presenting it as a class issue. Read it again:

> Glancing over the screens I could see a variety of pornographic images, facebook and myspace pages, and youtube. The library is a great resource, but I was completely pissed off that my tax dollars go to support that.

This is a bit different than an argument that they could cut down on 'probably a significant number' of computers if there was lower usage. The whole point of having a resource is to use it, so I'd argue that we should be trying to promote utilization anyway...

'surfing youtube' vs 'how it's intended to be used' is missing the forest for the trees: libraries are about disseminating information.

> Thus, modern libraries are increasingly being redefined as places to get unrestricted access to information in many formats and from many sources. They are extending services beyond the physical walls of a building, by providing material accessible by electronic means, and by providing the assistance of librarians in navigating and analyzing tremendous amounts of information with a variety of digital tools.

- http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Library

Would this be the wrong time to bring up the HN guidelines? (http://ycombinator.com/newsguidelines.html)

Calling someone else's argument asinine seems to be exactly what the guidelines specifically ask not to do. eg:

"When disagreeing, please reply to the argument instead of calling names. E.g. "That is an idiotic thing to say; 1 + 1 is 2, not 3" can be shortened to "1 + 1 is 2, not 3.""

I see and empathize with your point, but you're getting into some tricky first amendment issues if you attempt to police what people are doing (short of playing videos at high volume).

Strangely enough, I often study at a public law library (where I am right now) and I occasionally see the staff kick someone out for misuse of the computers here, even though it's run by the county. Perhaps it's because there are only 6 of them and they're meant for accessing legal databases like Lexis/Nexis, not checking your facebook status. (I'm using my laptop, they probably wouldn't approve of me using HN on a library machine either!)

In my experience as a library employee, there had to be a strong case that somebody was disrupting other patrons' abilities to use the library / creating a hostile environment before they could get kicked out. Coming in falling-down-drunk, stealing stuff, or looking at porn on the internet stations was pretty clear cut, but sometimes the line was fuzzy.

> ...using it to do the things I can do on my phone, on my way to the well-paying job

You really shouldn't watch porn on your phone while you drive. ;-)

Well, we're not allowed to text any more so what do they expect?

Maybe he's on a train. In a personal compartment.

Actually, I was referring to Facebook, Myspace and YouTube (from the parent comment) more than the porn, though it doesn't read like that! And I don't actually have a smartphone, so the only thing I can do with my phone on the Underground when going to work is ... tell the time.

And they're paying into the library too with their taxes, poor or not.

They may or may not, but I would put money on a majority of them not paying income tax due to the large number of homeless and vagrants.

But that is beside the point. Paying taxes does not give you the right to a) break the rules (surfing porn IS against the rules) and b) causes an environment that is not conducive to the intended use (i.e. a filthy environment that drives away legitimate users)

Homeless folks still have to pay sales taxes in most places.

People breaking the rules is certainly a valid complaint. However, I'm not aware of libraries banning YouTube (if people are using headphones), Facebook, or whatnot.

Homeless folks still have to pay sales taxes

And a lot of cigarette taxes and booze excise taxes. Really poor people pay a much larger proportion of their incomes in taxes.

I think the porn thing (which is as much about rules not being enforced as anything) can be separated from "facebook and myspace pages, and youtube", which were part of your original point.

Is it just the vagrants watching porn that pisses you off? That's maybe caring too much about the topic, but it raises a fair point.

`In my younger and more vulnerable years my father gave me some advice that I’ve been turning over in my mind ever since. “Whenever you feel like criticizing any one,” he told me, “just remember that all the people in this world haven’t had the advantages that you’ve had.”` - The Great Gatsby

I don't see how them being disadvantaged exempts them from library rules. Does being disadvantaged exempt people from the law. Of course not.

The law, in its majestic equality, forbids the rich as well as the poor to sleep under bridges, to beg in the streets, and to steal bread.

I suspect we can make a sensible distinction between being harassed by the police for being homeless and not being able to look at porn in a public library.

I think that is just as misleading as the quote above.

Decide for yourself: Is this thread about viewing pornography in public places? Is this thread about _homeless_ or _too poor to pay for internet access in any way_ people looking at porn? Or are we seriously discussing about tax dollars being spent in a wrong way?

Disclaimer following: I'm not a US guy and I've never been there, but both based on extrapolation (looking at my country, guessing it's not that different over there) and some public media stunts I'd like to reset some expectations here.

Paying for library internet access and the machines there won't ruin your country, period. If the libraries are somewhat similar to ours, the machines are old/reused/will stay for years or are a gift of a local company. Internet is a given for most places anyway and doesn't cost more if you're not only using it behind the counter but offer a couple of public places to use it as well.

So in the end I think the "tax dollar" argument is moot. It's - with my limited understanding - completely bogus and just tries to reinforce a moral problem with the use of public workstations ("I don't like your use case _and btw I pay for that_"). Chances are, you're not. Not in any way worth mentioning. Had a donut or a coffee at Starbucks (bridging the gap back to the article again) recently? Chances are you paid a lot more than the amount of your taxes going into "funding for internet usage in libraries".

Seriously. This thread seems completely disconnected from reality and nothing but a "WAH!" in my book.

Hmm. Perhaps you could read the actual responses by the people in the thread (including myself), instead of blindly responding to "the thread", whatever that is.

Of course there is always the oh so subtle difference between "being harassed by the police for being homeless" and "being harassed by the police while incidentally being homeless".

I've lived in 3 major cities, and I've only once seen what I would describe as unwarranted attention from the police directed the homeless. In fact, the majority of the time the police seem to completely ignore them, even when they're purposely making a scene. They know there's realistically nothing they can do, crazies will be crazy.

And yet, still unrelated to library porn-viewers.

You should attribute the quotes you use. Anatole France.

Pissed that your tax dollars provide computer access to people without computers? You don't approve of the sites they visit, so would you also complain if the books they read didn't meet your approval?

Not everyone in the library should have to read Shakespeare, ya know.

could we skip the shocked outrage part of the discussion?

Tax dollars go on random, pointless crap pretty much most of the time, and to be honest if I had to choose between, say, paying for the govt to invade Iraq or paying for someone without a computer to view pornography or visit facebook, I would choose the latter without hesitation.

Its a shame you dont approve of how others utilise their available resources, but maybe you could discuss the issue without faux-outrage. Its a boring and (these days) over used means of communication.

Isn't it somewhat the opposite? It's not that "your tax dollars" are supporting that people browsing porn at the library. To prevent people from browsing porn, the library have to spend more of "your tax dollars" to either install filtering software or employ people to walk around and look over people's shoulders.

That's not even considering the far thornier problem that porn filtering programs can often block legitimate web browsing, such as looking for information about sex education, safe sex, STD's etc.

> In my (biased, but well-founded) experience, it comes down to a question of whether I'd rather be distracted by a cute girl or an old man getting reprimanded for looking at dirty pictures.

Ha! Reminds me of my Brooklyn Public Library experience. The building looks fantastic on the outside, but on the inside it is a dreary, institutional wasteland. I had to pick my inspiration up off the floor when I walked in. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Brooklyn_Public_Library_by...

After I located the one room with outlets, I crammed my way onto the folding table and connected to the flaky wifi, which needs to be reauthorized every hour. While answering emails, I could not help but notice the hardcore anime porn viewing session at the bank of workstations across from the table. I doubt I'll be back.

The cost and monthly fee for a cell modem is pretty negligible compared to the benefit of a rent-free workspace.

You still need power, though.

Try the new Battery Park City NYPL. Spacious, quiet, and while not awe-inspiring outside or in, it's certainly not dreary.

"it comes down to a question of whether I'd rather be distracted by a cute girl or an old man getting reprimanded for looking at dirty pictures" : exactly my experience in SF public library vs a cafe in Mission.

"A great place to find some legit quiet time is in departmental libraries."

This has been my experience too. My current favourite is the Earth Sciences library. It's in one of the older buildings in my university, so the whole place has a much more humane feel than the concrete box of the main library. There's also more space to stretch out, and it's not as busy.

I've worked at the library quite a few times until I found a co-working space.

+1 on the distraction comment.

Well, actually i did work at the library, but i changed for one reason to my local coffeeplace: taking and making calls.

Thats the one reason i've left the library. I tried a starbucks for working but he is right, the tables are not big enough etc, so i actually went to a local coffeeshop and talked to the owner about me liking to work at his place.

I made a deal with him, i did all the quick-wins of online advertisement for him, (it's in germany so: qype, facebook, twitter, simple page with a fair amount of seo). For this i got my special table, big enough for everything i would ever need(i could easily place 2 macbooks + papers on it) + a coffee and bagle flatrate for a year.

I think we both made a good deal.

I wonder if there's a market for a coffee shop that has small, private office spaces available, perhaps available for free or for an hourly rent.

These might be the size of a typical restaurant booth (or a bit larger), but would be enclosed spaces that allow you to block out noise and distractions.

It wouldn't even need to be a coffee shop; maybe something like a capsule hotel for workspaces.

No. A bunch of people tried that over the last couple years in Chicago; all of them went bust. There are too many viable alternatives to "rental cubby" to charge enough. And coffee shops of all forms are almost sure-fire money losers.

Coffee shops are pretty much the opposite of sure-fire money losers. This article is a few years old, but:

The failure rate for new coffeehouses is a mere 10 percent, according to the market research firm Mintel, which means the vast majority of cafes stay afloat no matter where Starbucks drops its stores. Compare that to the restaurant business, where failure is the norm.

- http://www.slate.com/id/2180301/pagenum/all/#page_start

There's a reason you can find coffee shops--both franchised and independent--everywhere you go. Selling $.16 of coffee for $4 is quite profitable!

I see your Slate article quoting a market research report with another Slate article from someone who actually built a coffee shop, and raise you with a question and an observation.

First, the article: http://www.slate.com/id/2132576/

Second, the question: does that "10% failure rate" stat include Starbucks, Seattle's Best, Caribou, Peets, or Tully's? The rest of Mintel's stats do.

Finally, the observation: the margin on coffee beans doesn't determine the margin of a coffee house. Coffee beans aren't the dominant expense of a coffee house. Wages, followed by rent, are instead. You'll like that Slate article; it has math, and everything.

I remember reading the Slate article you're citing when it first came out. It's a fairly amusing one, which can be summarized as: "Wealthy person without a lick of business sense opens the 'café' of his dreams, declines to do any work himself, and goes out of business." It's entirely irrelevant to the economics of the average coffee shop.

First off, it's not clear to me whether the establishment the author opened was a coffee shop or a restaurant. The subtitle says "coffee shop", but the article then talks about finding someone to "whip up pretty crepes". I recognize that the dividing line between restaurant and coffee shop can be a bit fuzzy on occasion, but it's there and relevant. Most restaurants fail.

The really notable part of the article comes at the end, however: "There was, of course, one way to make the cafe viable: It was written into the Golden Rule itself. My wife Lily and I could work there, full-time, save on the payroll, and gerrymander the rest of the budget to allow for lower sales."

Yes, Mr. Michael Idov, you could have done that. You should have done that, from the start. That's what small business owners do: They work. That's what your competitors were doing. The goal may be to eventually make enough money to hire people to do all the work, but that's not where you start. You start by busting your ass.

That's the story of a dilettante who opened a restaurant as a fashion statement and went the way of all such fools.

Anyway, back to coffee shops. I don't know if Mintel's stats include the chains. They probably do. You might note, however, that the article I referenced is entirely dedicated to the proposition that Starbucks's presence in the market has been good for small, independently-owned coffee shops. Furthermore, even if we assume that no chain stores fail at all, a 10% industry failure rate would still have independent coffee shops doing pretty well. (Back of the envelope calculation: 14,000 independent coffee houses in the US in 2005, 11,000 Starbucks in the US in 2010, so let's say indies are only 25% of the total. If 10% of the total fail and all failures are indies, then 40% of indies fail. 60% success rate isn't bad for small businesses.)

And, finally, you're right that the margin on coffee beans doesn't determine the margin of a coffee house. That's what happens when your cost of goods is effectively zero, and I assure you that any restaurant or retail outlet would love for their margin to be solely determined by wages and rent.

That's a caricature of the article. Here are some salient excepts. Which parts of them do you disagree with?

[...] The logistics of a food establishment that seats between 20 and 25 people (which roughly corresponds to the definition of "cozy") are such that the place will stay afloat—barely—as long as its owners spend all of their time on the job. There is a golden rule, long cherished by restaurateurs, for determining whether a business is viable. Rent should take up no more than 25 percent of your revenue, another 25 percent should go toward payroll, and 35 percent should go toward the product. The remaining 15 percent is what you take home. There's an even more elegant version of that rule: Make your rent in four days to be profitable, a week to break even. If you haven't hit the latter mark in a month, close.

A place that seats 25 will have to employ at least two people for every shift: someone to work the front and someone for the kitchen [...] Budgeting $15 for the payroll for every hour your charming cafe is open (let's say 10 hours a day) relieves you of $4,500 a month. That gives you another $4,500 a month for rent and $6,300 to stock up on product. It also means that to come up with the total needed $18K of revenue per month, you will need to sell that product at an average of a 300 percent markup.


[...] the coffee [ed: with its acknowledged killer margins] needed to account for all of our profit. We needed to sell roughly $500 of it a day. This kind of money is only achievable through solid foot traffic, but, of course, our cafe was too cozy and charming to pop in for a cup to go. The average coffee-to-stay customer nursed his mocha (i.e., his $5 ticket) for upward of 30 minutes. [...].

Since the article both starts and ends with the observation you've tried to damn it with (that the owner of this coffee shop didn't know what he was getting into), I don't think that alone is a compelling response.

Finally, your analysis assumes that the coffee shop market is divided between "Starbucks" and "Independents". It is not. Other chain coffee shops account for nearly 30% again as many shops as Starbucks does.

PS: Respectfully, I'm not sure the guy who starts a thread with "coffee shops are pretty much the opposite of money losers" and "coffee shops have a 10% failure rate" gets to write smugly when his own revised math reveals his numbers to be wildly off, or his primary data point about coffee shops to be a single study from an industry marketing organization that included Starbucks in its numbers.

Oh, and in case this helps, a 2005 Cornell study (debunking the "9 in 10 restaurants fail" stat that had been circulating) breaks down restaurant turnover rate by sector, and... wait for it...

   Segment                 Year 3 Cum. Turnover

   Mexican                 86.81 
   Subs and bakeries       76.69 
   Coffee and snacks       70.00 
   Pizza                   61.25 
   Chicken                 57.88 
   Casual dining           53.13 
   Asian                   51.43 
   Family dining           45.00 
   Steak                   42.86 
   Buffets and cafeterias  38.46 
   Italian                 35.29 
   Burgers                 33.70 
   Seafood                 33.33
These numbers include chains and are derived from health department licensing numbers.

I'm not certain why you're so emphatically insisting that an article that is a pure anecdote--a case study of a single failed business--is more relevant than industry-wide data. You're quick to insult me for citing "a single study from an industry marketing organization", but you aren't citing anything.

You state: "your analysis assumes that the coffee shop market is divided between 'Starbucks' and 'Independents'." It does not, and I'm not certain how you can read it that way. Also, describing what I referred to as a "back of the envelope calculation" as "analysis" is silly.

Furthermore, the comment that I was originally responding to did not distinguish between chain coffee shops and independent ones, so your insistence on excluding Starbucks from consideration is bizarre.

Do you have anything to offer other than insults and an anecdote? You appear to be arguing with some passion for the proposition that coffee shops are money losing operations. Provide some evidence, some reason for believing this other than a single Slate article about a single failed business in trendy part of Manhattan.

See below, posted 20 minutes before you wrote this.

And coffee shops of all forms are almost sure-fire money losers.

I'd never heard that before. Is Starbucks an exception? Does their volume make the difference?

For any piece of real estate that is ideal as a coffee shop setting, one of Starbucks, Peets, Caribou, or Seattle's Best is bound to be the top bidder. The exceptions to this rule are dense metro areas where virtually every corner retail space is an ideal coffee shop location; the problem with this exception is that these spots are spectacularly expensive and serve markets already saturated with coffee shops.

I'd bet it has to do with space, if you're in the rental business, you need more of it- and it's expensive. If you're Starbucks, you do your feasibility calculations without assuming you'll get worker-cubby rental money.

It requires management as well. A nearby, locally owned, not a chain, shop went bust recently. There wasn't a professional manager there covering when the owner was absent. Things went downhill quickly.

Basically what you are describing is a coworking space. Coworking spaces are great, but from the perspective of an operator (I recently opened one) it's not a business to go into if you are looking to make money with it. Rent can only be so cheap (and in the US the commercial real estate market is already picking up again), you only have so much space and people are only willing to pay a certain amount. It's also logistically more difficult to manage and monitor an hourly pricing structure than one that's per visit/day/week/month and those longer periods require larger lump sums then some people are willing to pay.

Coffee shops, which are more profitable but also not usually a huge money makers, can make money from walk-ins and, due to the lower upfront prices, require less commitment from each customer. There are a few hybrid coffee shop/coworking spaces, but it's unclear how viable the model actually is. Commercial espresso machines are very expensive ($10K-$15K+), barista salaries are an additional expense and you need to balance serving people who walk in with the people who are on the coworking side. Also, if you have things like enclosed booths that means you have to fit in fewer people per square ft.

So, there's often a market there, but the economics are such that it's hard to make it very profitable, certainly much harder than many other businesses. Still, just so this doesn't sound completely pessimistic, it's not much work to maintain a straight coworking space (not much more than a regular office), it's entirely possible to make enough money to offset the work you put into it and there is a lot of value that extends beyond the immediate financial compensation.

At that point, you might as well find co-working space with decent coffee.

Sadly there isn't a single co-working space in this city. Starting one doesn't sound like a viable business plan either.

I have a 3G/4G modem with unlimited use (from Clear), and no longer consider WiFi availability as an important part of the decision making process of where to work. I'm currently camped in the desert in Southern California, 35 miles from the nearest "big" city (Brawley, which is not very big, but it does have a Walmart).

But, I never have been able to work in coffee shops. I can't think long enough with all the distractions to do anything of real value. Email, sure. Browsing reddit, no problem. But, actual work? No way. Library would probably work, though I've only tried it a few times when I was in Canada and didn't have 3G; it didn't work very well, as the Internet was always too slow or broken.

In the past I have lived or died by Starbucks and Caribou - driving around Omaha or some random town in Colorado trying to find public internet access. Now that I have a phone with national internet access, truly mobile internet is going to completely change how I work when I travel.

The rest stops with wifi have been fun finds in the past. There's one 50 miles west of Omaha for instance with decent wireless internet - I got a lot of odd looks sitting at a picnic table with my Macbook doing emails for two hours. Now, I can do that anywhere!

My Kindle was priceless in Canada. It has free 3G web browsing, even internationally...so, when I was stopping for the night, I'd do a search for "free wifi (city-name)", and punch the resulting address into the GPS. The Kindle browser is completely unusable for normal browsing (it's like browsing from 1994), but it's acceptable for that one query.

I've found that rest stops with WiFi are rarely in working condition. I'm not sure why it's so hard for public hotspots to be kept operational, but apparently it is, as I'd say 75% of the ones at unattended locations are simply not working. I've learned to never expect WiFi to work, even if it is advertised on the sign or on the website or whatever. The same is true of campgrounds, 80% of which claim to have WiFi but only about 40% of which actually have usable speed and reliability. I'm tempted, being a nerd, to just go around fixing campground networks, free of charge. But, usually, I just use my 3G/4G modem. I'm getting 500kbps-1Mbps here in the desert, which is completely usable.

Wifi is indeed usually atrocious at rest stops, which is why the one in Nebraska was such a find (my standard is 'works well for 8 bit VNC'). I find they usually 'work', technically, but the signal quality is very poor.

Some hotels have been similarly ruined for me by lack of acceptable internet service. As an entrepreneur, I'm never on a real vacation and thus a reliable, stable, reasonably fast connection is even more important than working plumbing. If a 3G device can take care of that, it's quite a relief. I always dreaded that I would sign in at a hotel, go to my room, and find the internet connection was lousy.

It surprises me that's possible. I can't get Clear in San Diego, but they have reception in the desert to the east? That's a really strange growth plan.

Clear runs on the Sprint network. If you have the "on the go" plan, you can use both 4G networks (of which there are only a dozen, or so, cities) and 3G networks (Sprint EVDO), which I'm certain is available in San Diego, because I've used the Sprint network there. It's the more expensive plan, but at $45/month, it's practically free, as far as I'm concerned...it means I'm not tied to cities and I can choose my campsites based on how awesome they are (or how cheap they are, if I'm feeling poor because I spent too much on gas getting there).

In short, click the "3G" radio button on the coverage map...suddenly San Diego will be thoroughly covered.

I work out the Columbia University libraries, although I'm not a student. For $500/year you can become a Friend of the Libraries and have access to all the libraries. It's a bargain if you consider how much you would spend at a coffee shop. Also, like the article says, fewer distractions and much more space.

I'm surprised they offer such a service. The Columbia U. library is notorious for being stingy with access. As a prospective grad student visiting the campus, they told me that I could have a once-time free pass and that if I ever wanted to get in again at some point during the rest of my life, I would have to become a student.

They even refused admittance to a friend of mine who was philosophy PhD student at U Penn. She was surprised because it is pretty normal to go to other campus libraries to do research for dissertations.

>The Columbia U. library is notorious for being stingy with access.

$500/year is generous? It would probably be cheaper to formally enroll and take no classes.

I suspect you need at least one class to be formally enrolled, and that would apparently be a minimum cost of $950: http://www.columbia.edu/cu/sfs/docs/University_Tuition_And_F...

So your saying as a bonus to the library your first class is only $450! :D

I've been formally enrolled in the continuing education program at Wittenberg university for something like a year, with no cost.

I'm sure Columbia is a little more strict (Wittenberg after all lets anyone into their library) but I'd imagine if you were determined you could gain access to the library for less than $500/year, though that still doesn't make any price generous so much as a price that Columbia has chosen. Generous would be giving free access.

Gosh... I guess i'm pretty lucky to live near my former Uni which only charges £40 yearly for former students. There's also a nice local council one nearby with free wifi, free membership for taxpayers. Another advantage is all the money you can save on heating bills.

Starbucks is outrageously expensive though - some cafés are much cheaper, and nicer.

I grew up in Maine and went to UMaine. The library there is open to the public. I'm in New York now and due to city budget cuts most public library branches don't open until 11AM which doesn't work for my schedule. Columbia is within walking distance of my apartment and $42/month is a screaming bargain since I'm so much more productive there than at a cafe.

I always go to the local university library when I want to get something done. I have no problem getting in or parking. Plenty of space to work. It's quiet and no distractions.

I work on my laptop without internet access, then upload everything when I get home. I never thought to inquire about wifi at the library.

Yes, this is a great idea. I paid a much smaller fee of $60 to have access to Mississauga libraries as an out of the city resident.

My biggest question is : does the fee include access to library wifi, but at $500, it's still rather steep.

It does include wifi as well as reading privileges, but not lending.

Duke's "Friends of the Libraries" is only $50 a year or $100 if you want access to the medical, business, law, and divinity libraries as well. I might actually consider working from there a couple times a week.

Best thing I've ever done. I work for a university and happen to live a few blocks away, so I will go to their library to work on my side projects. They close at 2AM and I've found a nice room there where undergrads don't seem to want to wander, so it's a perfect place to work.

It's quiet, and I've been conditioned from years of schooling that when I'm sitting at a table at the library, I ought to be working and not slacking. And, I can access journals, news archives, Safari/O'Reilly books, and all sorts of other useful resources while on the library wireless network.

I can still even get a cup of coffee at the coffee shop in the library for cheaper than Starbucks, and it comes right out of my paycheck.

Great point. For the less mature, I think the library helps strip away the pretense a bit too. Sipping lattes and being on Twitter seem to go together. Being at the library and doing real work seem to go together too.

My wife actually works at and for the library. Trust me when I say, you definitely don't want to work there. The amount of riff raff that hangs around that joint is just not worth it. People get trespassed, throw fits, steal DVDs, look at all manner of inappropriate material, and even straight up make scenes. The bathrooms are often vandalized with bodily excrement and the couches, as comfy as they may be, are also covered in the same if the cleaners haven't come that day. There are plenty of other coworking spaces you could join or support. Do yourself a favor, check them out.

That'll vary a lot by library and surrounding community. I've been in central libraries that were clean and didn't have anything worse happening than children being told to shush.

It'd probably worth visiting and checking one's local library out if you need a remote place to work. Spend a couple of hours - leisurely find some books, read a magazine or two - and see whether you're comfortable there. If so, then try coming in with your laptop.

University libraries are generally well kept. They are better funded than the public libraries, and (often) being private property they have more discretion as to who they can throw out. Unfortunately the advent of magnetized key cards seems to be resulting in an increase in the number of libraries that require you to "swipe in".

However, you'll have to find the quiet corners because roudy college kids can make the main areas distracting.

Starbucks still charges for WiFi? I thought they did away with that.

In any case, I always got around it by pretending to be an iPhone. :)

WiFi has been free at Starbucks in the USA since July 2010. Before that, a registered Starbucks card got you free WiFi.

It's free at all Starbucks now. Makes for a much laggier experience though, since everyone is up on that bandwidth

In the UK it's free if you have a registered Starbucks card (which doesn't cost anything).

It's free at the Starbucks where I live.

Working in a library is second to none, but the advantage Starbucks has over the library is the late closing. University library hours are one thing, but regular ol' public libraries close too early.

And open too late.

And don't let you have coffee.

That sucks; you can have coffee in the Chicago and Oak Park libraries.

The library in Quebec city won't even let you have a bottle of water open on your table, forget coffee.

This varies tremendously from location to location. Covered coffee mugs are often allowed.

The Minneapolis Public Library has a coffee shop inside.

Not only they open late and closed early, they are not a good alternative for consistent work particularly if you require your phones to be on. However, libraries are generally better and spacious than coffee shops. mcDonalds is another alternative if you find chairs that are not hard.

I've tried working in the library on a number of occasions. The one bad thing I've discovered is that the WIFI sucks at pretty much every public library I've worked at. And I think that's a sample size of 4 or 5 libraries. I live almost right next to the main branch of the San Francisco Public Library, and every time I've gone there to work, I've left after a while because the Internet was too slow or didn't work quite right.

So if I want to get any coding done, and need access to the Internet, I have found the library to be a pretty bad place. If I'm just doing some quiet reading, the library can be great.

I've worked from two libraries near my house quite a bit as well as a couple sandwich shops. (I can't stand the smell of burning coffee.)

The sandwich shops are less distracting to me. All the conversations and background noise blend together for me. I try to avoid rush times and busy days so I'm not tying up a table when they need them.

The libraries are ok but have some problems. Neither really get many homeless guys but both have a lot of kids, especially in the afternoon. With big open floorplans, that's more noise than I can ignore. The availability of books sometimes distracts me, but to be honest, the book collections are now so old and unimpressive that it's not a big deal.

The other problem is that the libraries block a number of things on their network, like most webmail, instant messengers, and most VPNs. I'm still able to use https for GMail and my work tunnel so I can work there, but it seems unnecessarily restrictive.

Yes, SFPL wireless network internet is terrible.

Previous discussion of a similar post: http://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=758458

Nice catch - there's good discussion there, too.

I was having a deja-vu with this post...

++. I don't know why more people don't do this. The library is a great place to work - for free - and it comes with built in offline distractions for when you need to step away from a problem. I used to spend a lot of time at Columbia University's Butler library.

Libraries are also a great place to get internet access. I spent a lot of time in local libraries while traveling around New Zealand.

The main branch of the public library in Christchurch explicitly offers free wifi even when it's closed ... that's hard to beat (if you can find anywhere to sit).

It's capped to ~few hundred meg. At least when I was there for ~2 months a couple years back. It's really easy to get around though.

About the "if you can find anywhere to sit". I've never been in a library that was so full. I found that upstairs in the glassed off area to be the best. Got a lot done there.

NZ really does have some great libraries. Whangerei, Wellington and Christchurch being examples.

Or a hacker space. Lots of like minded people to share ideas with, help, and be helped by.

My favorite is Hacker Dojo in Mountain View. What's yours?

I've tried to work at libraries in the past, but more often than not they block port 22, which means no workie for me.

Yes, I could set up a proxy server on EC2 or something. Or I could go to a coffee shop.

A few years ago when I was trying to start something in Boston I was working in the Public Library but ran into the same problem with the homeless. I wrote about it a little tongue-in-cheek. I was younger and maybe a little looser with my words:


It was later picked up by the Boston Globe http://www.boston.com/news/local/massachusetts/articles/2008...

This is spectacular for small towns or smaller regional libraries but have you ever been to a large city library? It brings out some of the weirdest people.

Collegiate libraries in my experience are nice, but can get crowded at times.

I spent the first year of my company working out of a big city library. It worked great.


I wondered this as well when I lived in Seattle. The public library system in that city is phenomenal. Many of the small branches have nice modern designs and you can always go to the Central Library which has tons of desk space, power outlets, and window seating. Internet access wasn't blazing but I never had issue with blocked ports nor was it ever "too slow to do work".

Not sure about all the branches but the Capitol Hill branch has a decent sized meeting room which a monthly Tech Startup meetup used to use (though that was 3 years ago now).

I like the distractions of a good coffee shop. I like being someplace with music playing and people wandering through. It provides engagement for the parts of my brain I don't use when working.

My favorite coffee shops are loud enough that I'm not distracted by other people's conversations. Either the music is loud enough to drown them out, or enough people are talking at once that it all blends into a meaningless susurration. A place which is too quiet--like most libraries, actually--amplifies distractions.

I work at a large public library that actively encourages work of all kinds within.

Free wifi, power points for recharging laptops (indoors and in the gardens surrounding), free bookable meeting rooms, designated quiet and non-quiet areas, a cafe, and even a recording studio.

Libraries are torch bearers of civilisation, and in an age when Alexandria has been reborn in an ethereal form, they are devoted to sustaining culture and knowledge in whatever manner is required.

I'll echo the same as most other posters: Internet is the limiting factor.

I love working there. No distractions is a great way to shut out the world and focus. My local libraries limited internet access to an hour a day. If 3g was cheaper in Canada, I'd just man up and get a stick or tether to my cell, but I'd need a line of credit to make that happen.

That's how we got started. Our university let us book private rooms for 2 hours in a row, so we reserved 6 hours every day (we're 3). We did that for 3 months. The library manager thought we were doing some class project and helped us get a good room every day :)

For the introverted moonlighting hacker who doesn't get out much except for the coffee shop, libraries are great for getting a ton of stuff done.

However, for social interaction and meeting people once in a while the coffee shop is a good change and/or alternative. Taking breaks more often works and being strict with your time management works well, but you have to be strict when your in the coffee ship from my experience. Meet lots of new interesting people too.

I like both, it will depend on my mood too. I say use both if you can. Where I live the coffee shop (not a big chain), is much more convenient though and mostly filled with students from the local university.

I tried, I honestly tried. The result was they have really uncomfortable chairs and the bandwidth is really bad. The silence and concentration is good but I have a headset anyway.

The chairs are not really a deal breaker, but the bandwidth totally is.

Yep. The big take-away from this thread and the related one linked above is that libraries vary a lot, and you'll have to try yours out to see how it works.

It doesn't have to be either Starbucks or a library. It can be both.

I would definitely go to a library that serves lattes and pastry ;)

A pool of places is probably a good idea for third-place workers. Renovations, etc. can make any particular library or cafe unavailable.

That's ok provided that you have a local library. In the UK at present there is a concerted campaign on behalf of the government and local councils to shut libraries down.

And just at the time when I discovered a nice comic books selection at my local library (Wimbledon), for when you're "working".

Unfortunately, I echo many of the reservations of working at my local public library: can't make calls, horrible hours of operation, etc.

I'll add one more thing: horrible network filtering.

Where do you people live? Our libraries open early in the morning and close at 9PM.

This debate is exactly why I'm looking at co-working. I've yet to try it, but the local shop (ideafield Tampa) is only $99/month + a $25 one-time desk fee. That's not bad.

I prefer to find a nice quite place at the local college (which I graduated from years ago). Its got highspeed and unrestricted internet, since its a learning environment its generally distraction free and usually somewhat quite. And no one frowns at you if you've spread paperwork, plans, books, a laptop, etc. all over a desk or table. And I for one seem to be highly productive doing work in a learning environment.

Good reminder to finally go try this... but honestly, it is the phone usage that's worried me. I hop on Skype many times a day, and the overall noise-floor at a coffee shop makes it possible to do so without bothering anyone (I use earbuds, so hearing isn't generally an issue). I think our library has a nice outdoor area though.. might be okay to take calls out there.

I find that one of the most productive places for me are hotel rooms. For some reason I seem to get a lot of work done in a hotel room in a foreign country. If you need to make a living while working on your project, a Sales Engineer type role that has you traveling a lot (trains/planes aren't bad for concentrating as well) is in my experience a great way to do that.

Combine the two and work at your local Barnes and Noble - they often have a coffee shop and areas for you to spread out and read/work/etc

Many academic libraries are open to the public and have better accommodations. I live in Boston so it's academic library heaven.

I still go to my University library. It was a fantastic place to work when I was there, and has only gotten better. There's a nice atmosphere - people are generally working, but having a laugh and enjoying being together too. There's no music but my own headphones, and the WiFi is free. I'm surrounded by books on any subject I may need through the day.

My local library however, is drab, too quiet and I feel out of place with my lap top working there. Like I'm being watched for doing something odd. I get more distractions as the noise level is less consistent.

This holiday season I was in State College, PA and the local Schlow Library was a great place to work and much quieter and more comfortable than the coffee shop. - http://www.schlowlibrary.org/ - Since then I try to find a library when I am on the road.

Libraries are also available just about everywhere in the US. I was bike touring this summer and was doing a little freelancing on my netbook. I could stop in a good library in just about any town of 500+ (and definitely a county seat) and pick up wifi & charge everything in a power outlet.

Boston public is a fantastic place to be productive. Beautiful structure. People are very respectful of the 'this is a library, stfu' rule, free wifi, and in the summer they host live music in the courtyard. One of the most laid back and under-estimated places in the entire city.

I work often at the Bates Hall. Spacious, beautiful tables, respectful atmosphere -- even when crowded it's remarkably quiet. The Johnson building is much less appealing.

I have the same problem today that I had back in college- no caffeine at the library. I love working at the library, especially university libraries, but I need a steady stream of caffeine in order to do my best work. If they had a coffee maker at the UCLA library, I'd be sold.

I did some work at the main branch of the Chicago Public Library yesterday. It was okay, but full of homeless people and not really all that quiet.

The Lincoln Park Whole Foods is my new favorite spot. I work all afternoon, have a really healthy dinner, then do some writing over a wine flight.

Before I got a proper office, I'd have loved to have worked at my local library when I needed a break from working in the house. Only problem: the library (like most UK ones, I imagine) won't let members of the public plug in laptops for power. :o(

I like the library over Starbucks (or other coffee shops) but our local county libraries aren't open 7 days a week anymore due to budget cuts.

I'll have to try the local community college library though -- I hadn't really considered it in the past.

Internet speed can also be an issue, for good or bad. I'll hit the coffee shop if I'm syncing with a server regularly or know I'll be researching a bunch, but the I'll hit the library if I want the internet to feel like dial-up.

exactly, the library is great and super quiet, but I was there today and the internet was horrendous...

I personally did this for over a year (Springfield, Missouri) in our kickass library downtown. Great coffee shop nearby, quiet, plenty of books (doh) and magazines to read as break entertainment and just fantastic.

I actually like to work in establishment that is weird amalgamation of coffeshop and rock club. During normal day hours it is almost empty and distraction free, but you can distract yourself if you want to.

The internet at the Minneapolis Public Libraries block port 22 and filter the internet. No looking at Flickr for you!

The Minneapolis Public Library merged with the county a year ago, and I'm not sure if the policy changed.

This may seem radical but... how about working in an actual office? You can get your own office. Room to spread out, no noise. You can still go out to Starbucks in your break, to get that vibe feeling.

Libraries don't charge thousands of dollars per month to rent your workspace, that's certainly one reason.

I have occasionally brought my laptop to the library near my office to work. However if I'm at home and want to head out, the nearest coffee shop is 4 blocks away and the nearest library is 20.

My bank has a little lobby with a coffee machine where I and a couple others hang out and work. I like to stand up while I work and they have a couple taller tables that work nicely for me.

Are they happy with this, or have they just not noticed? I'd feel bad about using another business's resources unless they explicitly allow it.

Well, it's his bank, so the lobby really is for his use to some degree. Also, I'd have to think they'd pay attention to who hangs out in their lobby repeatedly and for any length of time, if only for security reasons. (Or I'd have to hope.)

As long as he's a customer and doesn't seem to pose a problem, they probably don't mind. (And bankers would do something if they perceived a problem, if only by having the security guard hang out very close to the people in question.) If they haven't noticed that a few people work in the lobby, then those people really must not be impinging on anyone there.

Sounds like Hetty Green. She made millions working from a bank counter.


I've been working from the British Library in London lately, and it's been great. If you're working at a library, though, please do consider making a donation. Sure it's free, but...

This post is neglecting to list the most obvious reason of all to work at the library - a wealth of reference information (in...gasp!...something you can hold and read in any light!)

I'm going to take this advice. The math alone tell me I could afford 2-5 new startups a year with the money I waste on the impulse purchases of food/drinks.

I would agree with working at library. But I haven't been able to overcome one notable issue:

Hours: Saturday 10AM - 5PM Sunday 12PM - 4PM

Saturday is a possibility but Sunday is a joke.

I work for the New York Public Library, and believe me, we wish we could be open all day every day.

Last year, city budget cuts took the libraries in Queens and Brooklyn from 6 day service to 5, and we managed to keep NYPL open 6 days, but with reduced hours.

That said, there's a lot of people who freelance out of our libraries, and as strange as it sounds, one guy launched his hedge fund out of our business library (we have a few free Bloomberg terminals).

May I recommend coworking. It's the best of the library and Starbucks with the added bonus of great networking opportunities.

Libraries are terrible for one reason: the hours are terrible. End of story.

...while they still exist.

Stay at Starbucks. I'll take the Library & keep it to myself.

Don't go to the library. I don't want people taking my seat.

It sounds like people need to open more hacker work spaces.

love the idea, in theory. in practice, i'd have to drive to library, but can walk to any number of coffee shops or book stores instead.

much easier to execute for a student.

we conduct our monthly usability studies at the library in two adjacent study rooms. quiet and no bullshit internet, skype screen sharing is no problem :)

good article! more accurate to say that libraries are different, better in some ways, worse in others. take advantage of this fact.

or you could just work at home...

My local branch of the SF Peninsula library (Redwood Shores if you have to know) has a cafe with wifi and plenty of wall sockets. Nice place to work.

As others noted, hacker work spaces are also good.

"one time a woman asked me to troubleshoot her connectivity issues. Sorry, lady, but I’m trying to work here."

I stopped reading at that point.

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