Web Working In the Library, the Pros and Cons

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


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