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The public library as community center: books, latte, yoga

The public library branches out with new ways to bring bodies to the stacks.  Nationwide librarians are developing a community center model where visitors can do everything from drink their latte and do yoga, to speed dating and tax preparation – all while getting closer to books.

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The American public library is becoming more of a community center where books, latte, yoga draw the public closer to books.
At the Coolspring branch of the LaPorte County (Michigan) Public Library family night in March 2012, Jo'Hanna Osenkarski works on a Lego vehicle.

Bob Wellinski/The News Dispatch/AP

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 In the past month at a metro Atlanta public library you could have: listened to a barbershop quartet, taken a yoga or line dancing class, had a soda and a snack, received help preparing your taxes or homework, learned needlepoint, attended an open-mic poetry slam, gotten a mammogram screening, run your small business from a corner desk, learned how to give your newborn a massage or mastered the art of tai chi.

You could have also checked out a book.

Talk to librarians and administrators and inevitably the phrases "community living room" and "neutral space" come up. True, libraries have been both of those things for more than a century, but their primary mission is, and has always been, to be a warehouse of books, material and information.

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Yet many libraries across the country are moving toward a model that looks more like a community center than a living room, where you can take a Zumba class, fill out job applications, do speed dating and learn to use that e-reader you got for your birthday. In some, you can even order a latte.

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