While campus is under construction with the new athletic facilities, the library will also be seeing some changes during December and January.
TommieMedia was the first to report that O’Shaughnessy-Frey Library would be partnering with Coffee Bené to build a coffee shop on the first floor of the library. The shop should open at the beginning of second semester.
Dan Gjelten, director of libraries, said he has been working to place a coffee shop in the library for the past five years. With a new student center on the way, the time was right for the library to take the next step.
Because more students are doing research and homework online, fewer are “hitting the books” like they used to. And with fewer students scanning the shelves, the library is trying to redefine its purpose on campus.
“It sort of raises the question ‘Well, what is the point of the library as a place?’” Gjelten said.
Gjelten hopes a coffee shop on the main floor of the library will help bring students back and give them a learning experience outside the pages of a book.
“We see the library as a place where community is nurtured and developed. A coffee shop is a perfect place to carry on that kind of activity,” Gjelten said. “I think if you look around town at the various coffee shops you see that kind of activity going on. So for me, coffee and reading, writing and conversing, sharing ideas; they go hand in hand.”
Senior Amanda Leaveck said she studies in coffee shops instead of the library. But she thinks coffee in the library will be a new attraction for students.
“If coffee is in the library, people are going to go to the library,” she said.
The library found its coffee partner kitty-corner from campus. Many St. Thomas students frequent Coffee Bené and Gjelten wanted to bring that experience to campus.
“I just didn’t want to deal with a huge corporation when we have a perfectly wonderful partner right across the street,” Gjelten said. “They are like friends of ours. We’re neighbors and I would much rather do business with people like that than with some corporate attorney in Seattle.”
The history of a partnership
That relationship started 35 years ago with Pontillo’s Pizzeria, which is now Davanni’s. Three-and-a-half years ago, the founders of the locally owned and operated pizza chain started Coffee Bené next door. As the decision was made to add another coffee shop on campus, the relationship has grown even stronger.
“I think that a lot of it is about relationship building,” said Coffee Bené general manager Molly Kruger. “They started building that relationship 35 years ago and we’re still building it. We’re still working on that relationship, and I think that we’ve built a lot of relationships with students along the way. And that’s not something you always get from a Starbucks or Caribou or something like that.”
What students get
Construction will start on the library coffee shop after finals week in December. The construction is relatively minor and will take place over the holiday break and January Term. Coffee Bené should be serving coffee in time for the first day of spring semester classes. Gjelten said the coffee shop should seat 16 to 20 people at a time and students will be able to use their flex and eXpress accounts to buy coffee.
Together, St. Thomas and Coffee Bené hope to create not just a place to grab a cuppa joe but a full experience for students.
“This is going to be a warm, human, ancient opportunity for people to gather and talk face to face, and hopefully to exchange ideas,” Gjelten said. “I don’t want to get away from the ultimate goal of the library … that it is a place where teaching and learning occur, where students work together in groups, where you can sit down with your professor over a cup of coffee and talk about stuff. So I guess it’s that goal of building and nurturing community and also bringing really good coffee to the people.”
Ashley Bolkcom can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org