Sunday, August 13, 2006

Hangouts Feed Souls of Lonely by Kayce T. Ataiyero (A Chicago Tribune Article with Implications for Public Libraries)

The highlighted quote is "Where can you go to get a cheap cup of coffee that comes with a kiss? That's Kappy's." Hey, our library now has coffee for a free will offering. We may fall a little short on kisses, but we do have smiles.

"Hangouts Feed Souls of Lonely" by Kayce T. Ataiyero, which ran on page one of the Saturday, August 12 Chicago Tribune, focuses on a family restaurant in Morton Grove, Illinois called Kappy's Restaurant and Pancake House. The restaurant has a very loyal customer base of seniors who come for more than the food. Kappy's is their third place, according to Ataiyero. For many seniors who are retired, it is really a second place. The owner and staff are known to hug regulars, people who often come more than five times a week. Waitresses will even telephone people who are missing to see how they are.

"There was this 80-year-old woman who came in the other day, and I hugged her and she told me that it was the first hug she's had in three years. It broke my heart," (day manager Sharon) Vardalos said. "I told her, 'From now on you get two, one coming and one going.' "

Mark Rosenbaum, a marketing professor at Northwest University, noticed Kappy's. He said that the restaurant saved his widowed mother's life. He wrote why in "Exploring the Social Supportive Role of Third Places in Consumers' Lives," which recently ran in the Journal of Service Research, vol. 9, no. 1, pages 59-72 (2006). He goes on to say that places like Kappy's are vital to the emotional health of seniors, who frequent these places where they are known. The danger, however, is that these places, family-owned restaurants and taverns, are disappearing. There were 5000 taverns in the Chicago area in the 1980s. Fewer than 2000 remain today.

As a librarian, I find this lengthy article interesting. My library has regulars who definitely need more than books and answers to questions. Many, though not all, are seniors, some widowed. They sometimes stop at the circulation and reference desks to chat. Sometimes they take more books than they are really are going to read, though they do have plenty of time. Sometimes they ask what may seem frivolous questions. They need to lengthen the social exchange, get a few smiles and good wishes.

Not all of the lonely people who come to the library are easy to satisfy. A few make you wish you could hide when you see them coming. These are probably the people who most need our smiles and good wishes.

Movies often include grouchy seniors who turn out to be sweethearts once the main character of the film can find common ground with them. They are stock characters and often not totally believable, but there is a core of truth behind the convention. Many of our more challenging regulars can be calmed and pleased with a welcoming smile, patience, and a few kind words, as well as good library service and a cup of coffee. If I had the right personality, I could add hugs to the arsenal. Maybe some other librarians can.

I am not really the kind of person to hang out at restaurants or taverns, so when I am older and perhaps lonely, I hope there is a public library for me. I might need more than books.

1 comment:

maggie moran said...


I get so depressed when I think of my regulars. I miss them so much!

When you talk about the library as a community center people automatically jump to kids and not seniors in the library. They don't like us babysitting or catering to the kids, tweens & teens. They don't realize we have a healthy over 55 group, too.

This age group is perfect for exhibits. Just think, if they collect or hand produce crafts, you have endless displays. It's perfect for getting them to talk to the curious young'uns always floating around.

Generational mixing! Love It!