Usually, when I want to get out of the house for a change of scenery, I head to Cafe Kuvuka, a local coffee shop just at the end of my street, but yesterday afternoon I fancied working somewhere new. I haven’t worked in a library since […]

Usually, when I want to get out of the house for a change of scenery, I head to Cafe Kuvuka, a local coffee shop just at the end of my street, but yesterday afternoon I fancied working somewhere new. I haven’t worked in a library since finishing my degree years ago, so decided it was time to give my local library, the Bristol Central Library, a try, and thought it was worth sharing my thoughts on the experience here.


After working for a good few hours in the library, here are what I consider to be the advantages and disadvantages over working in a cafe:


  • The library is a lot quieter than a coffee shop. There’s no music and conversation is kept to fairly muted, hushed tones. In fact, the academic, studious atmosphere is very conducive to serious “head down” work.
  • Nice architecture creates a pleasant working environment. The interior of the Bristol Central Library is great Victorian architecture with a lovely vaulted ceiling, which can be see in the photo above. Large public libraries are often housed in impressive buildings (the New York Public Library looks like a great place to work, for example).
  • It’s free. You don’t need to feel that you need to keep buying food or drinks to “pay” for your Wi-Fi. You don’t even have to join the library to use the Internet.
  • Comfortable desks. Unlike the tables in coffee shops, which are primarily designed for holding drinks and food, the writing desks at my library are at a much more comfortable height for working, which is far kinder on my spine. The chairs were fairly comfortable, too
  • Access to research material. Of course, if you need to access any research material you’re already in the library!


  • No telephone/VoIP calls. You can’t make or receive phone calls while you’re in the building (except in the cafe). That’s OK for me on days when I don’t have meetings planned, but it means that this is not going to be a viable workspace for many.
  • Not very much social interaction. One of the reasons that I feel like leaving the house is to have some chitchat with regular people — you can’t really get that in a library. Because you can’t have a conversation, a library is not going to make a good pseudo-coworking venue, either.
  • You’re not allowed to plug in your computer. If you run out of power, you can’t plug in as they don’t have many outlets (not in the section that I was in, anyway). I was surprised by this, and would guess that more modern libraries probably wouldn’t have this restriction.
  • No eating/drinking at your desk (except in the cafe). I quite like having a cup of coffee or tea while I work.

So, will I return to the library in future? Yes, on days when I really need to knuckle down and concentrate on a single project with zero distraction: it is a nice working environment that encourages concentration and hard work. I think it would be useful to, say, block out four hours of working time for getting a long article done, and head to the library to work solely on that task. However, on normal working days, when I’m merely looking to change my scenery and get a little pleasant conversation with some coffee, I think I’ll stick with my local cafe.

Have you tried library working? Does it help you to concentrate?

Photo credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/stevecadman/ / CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

By Simon Mackie

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  1. I too have tried out the library. With my Mac Book at the 7 hours of battery life it was a great place to work. I did receive a skype call and got a few dirty looks for my conversation. I highly recommend it for days you need to really concentrate – same thing with jury duty, great place to zone out and just program!

    1. Not sure I would try a Skype call in a library ;)

      Do you actually get 7 hours on your Macbook? My Macbook Pro should get 7 hours but I can’t really get more than 4-5 in regular usage.

  2. Sounds like the Bristol Central Library is kinda “old school.” I’m lucky to have two libraries in biking distance, a university library and a public library. I use both regularly. They have free wifi and a comfy space to work, tables and upholstered chairs. Both have plenty of outlets to plug in my laptop and both have quiet zones–no talking–and mobile zones where I can make a phone call.

    I think coffee shops are overrated as work places away from home. I rarely get any work done there, so I’m honest with myself, call it a break and then go back to the library. Besides, libraries books and periodicals generally not available on the web.

  3. I’m a philologist/musicologist, so I have seen quite a lot of libraries. Some were quite shabby and uncomfortable, some (especially the Berlin State Library and the library of my faculty) made really good working environments.
    I still love working in libraries because of the zero-distraction factor. The main reason that I don’t use libraries that often (besides being a full-time employee in my main job) is that it takes me extra time to get there.

    One thing that is sligthly off-topic: I was always a bit grumpy about all the law, economy and medicine students that used to sit in my faculty’s library all day with their own books. They did not need the library’s books and the desks would have been sorely needed by the philologists, especially on weekdays when the library was really crowded. If all the webworkers now stormed the libraries, too, I could imagine some really upset humanities students.
    So maybe you consider the people who need the library and it’s books for their work.

  4. My library (Kansas City, Missouri) has two branches with great facilities – long work tables with power outlets integrated into the table top. One branch even has ethernet jacks next to the power outlets, which is handy when the wifi gets slow. Our Central Library also has small, private study rooms that can be reserved for free.

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  7. University and college libraries may work better for you than public libraries, they generally allow you to plug in your computer and have a drink if it is in a cup with a lid.

  8. Love the libraries here in Minneapolis!

    I rotate between a couple coffee shops, but when I want to ‘get serious’, I have a 3 different libraries that I head to.

    One in particular (Ridgedale) has a big room that can very comfortably accommodate about 20 workers. All the tables have a 4 outlet hub that sticks out the top every 6 feet.

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