4.01.2011

coming to a library near you? stress-relieving dogs and speed-dating

Dogs and libraries, the perfect combination! Many thanks to NN for sending. I needed a happy story, after this.
Black’s Law Dictionary? Check.

An Introduction to Legal Reasoning? Check.

Small, cute dog? Check.

Yale Law School, renowned for competitiveness and its Supreme Court justices, is embarking on a pilot program next week in which students can check out a “therapy dog” named Monty along with the library’s collection of more than one million books.

While the law school is saying little so far about its dog-lending program, it has distributed a memo to students with the basics: that Monty will be available at the circulation desk to stressed-out students for 30 minutes at a time beginning Monday, for a three-day trial run.

“It is well documented that visits from therapy dogs have resulted in increased happiness, calmness and overall emotional well-being,” Blair Kauffman, the law librarian, wrote in an e-mail to students.

The school is not saying what sort of dog Monty is; what happens to him when school is out of session; or how Monty himself may be kept from becoming overstressed with all his play dates.

Sebastian Swett, 26, a second-year student at the law school, said he had signed up for a session with the dog, but does not necessarily think that it will relieve all the pressures that come with being a student at Yale. “I don’t think its going to solve anybody’s anxiety problems, but it’s certainly nice to play with a dog for half an hour.”

Monty, according to the memo to students, is hypoallergenic and will be kept in a nonpublic space inside the library, presumably away from those who don’t much like dogs.

“We will need your feedback and comments to help us decide if this will be a permanent ongoing program available during stressful periods of the semester, for example, during examinations,” the note to students reads.

A handful of other universities offer similar services, including the University of Wisconsin at Oshkosh.

Elsewhere, another stab at keeping the library vital and relevant. "Where's your section on kindred spirits?"
Outside of college campuses and romantic comedies, the library is not usually a place to pick up a date. But that didn’t stop several dozen singles, mostly in their 20s and 30s, from showing up on a recent Tuesday night at the main branch of the San Francisco Public Library for its first speed-dating session.

Among them was Jeremiah Lee, a 33-year-old software engineer who said he had not stepped foot in a public library in years. “The kind of person the library can attract is different than the kind you get at a bar,” said Mr. Lee, who wore a dark purple fleece and blue jeans for the occasion. Participants were asked to bring a favorite book, so he clutched a copy of “The Tipping Point” by Malcolm Gladwell and “The Road” by Cormac McCarthy.

In a basement meeting room a boombox played love songs while daters were assigned numbers and had four minutes to chat, flirt or wrinkle their noses at one another’s literary tastes. Then the men rotated, book in tow, to the next woman. Later, librarians would tally scorecards and connect any two people who indicated mutual interest.

Can “Atlas Shrugged” find love with the “Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test”? Is attraction possible between a Jonathan Franzen reader and a die-hard Elizabeth Gilbert fan?

Those are the types of questions librarians are starting to field. In a kind of hearts-and-flowers literacy drive, public libraries across the country are sponsoring speed-date nights to draw more young professionals into reading rooms.

In Fort Collins, Colo., librarians strung white lights and scattered rose petals for two date nights last fall. The main library in Sacramento recently hosted its second event. Libraries in Chattanooga, Tenn., Piscataway, N.J., and Omaha all held soirees for Valentine’s Day last month.

“The library wants to be a gathering place that is relevant to younger people,” said Donya Drummond, the reference librarian who promoted the San Francisco event, mostly through Facebook. “We had more people than we knew what to do with.”

Literary speed dating seems to have its roots in Europe. Danny Theuwis, a librarian from Leuven, Belgium, believes he and his colleagues introduced the concept in 2005 with the goal to enliven somber libraries, and make them “more alive, more direct, more emotional,” he said in an e-mail. He trained hundreds of librarians across Europe to host literary speed dating, or “bibdating” in Flemish.

Among the first of similar events in the United States took place at the Omaha Public Library Benson Branch, where Amy Mather, a librarian, and her colleague at the time, Manya Shorr, organized a “Hardbound to Heartbound” night in 2009, on Valentine’s Day. Some 65 people showed up.

Library Journal, a trade publication, named the two women “Library Leaders Creating the 2.0 Library of the Future” for their efforts to attract “a generation that came of age in the Age of the Internet.”

“The age range from 20 to 40 is a population that we do tend to lose unless they have young kids to bring them into the library,” said Audra Caplan, president of the Public Library Association. “They’re paying taxes and voting. We need to be viable to them and provide them with experiences and resources that are useful.”

Last spring the Collaborative Summer Library Program, a national consortium of public libraries, included literary speed dating on its list of suggested adult library programming. Since then, libraries across the country have been dimming the lights and playing matchmaker.

“It’s a safe space,” said Diane Moore, a librarian at the Chattanooga-Hamilton County Bicentennial Library. “There is no alcohol, so you don’t have to worry about people saying ‘Oh, baby’ one night, and then the next morning waking up and going, ‘Yikes!’ ”

One logistical snag is the preponderance of women. Libraries reported difficulties attracting men in sufficient numbers. In downtown Fort Collins, an event had to be canceled when no men signed up. At the San Francisco event, the sign-up ratio was about one man to every five women. (The one exception seemed to be the same-sex night, when more than twice as many gay men turned up as lesbians.)

“We can’t figure out how to get enough men,” Ms. Moore said. Chattanooga’s downtown branch is planning to host date nights quarterly, and is soliciting ideas for how to draw more men. Some have suggested putting photographs of attractive young women on their leaflets. Others proposed playing down fiction, since men seemed to bring in more nonfiction books.

That was not the case at the San Francisco Public Library, where women and men showed an eclectic range. Not surprisingly, the book you brought advertised something about your compatibility. . . .

7 comments:

M@ said...

I haven't been single for a long, long time, but if I were, I'd be really interested in that -- and I don't think I would ever try "normal" speed dating.

As for the stress relief dog... WHY CAN'T EVERY WORKPLACE HAVE THIS!?

laura k said...

I agree on all counts!

Nice to have you back in comments, M@.

johngoldfine said...

Our collie is a certified therapy dog, but she really needs a handler--not because she would ever be a problem or a trouble; she's the sweetest dog in the world.

But because, even with her temperament, after an hour she's had enough of geriatric old ladies petting, stroking, smelling like Vicks, and poking their faces into hers. She starts to get stressed.

That's when it's time to leave, and that's the boss's call.

So I worry about this small hypoallergenic dog, dealing with stressed out strangers for half an hour at a stretch.

I think everyone should have at least one dog--that hit of oxytocin is great! But part of the thrill is the whole package: the search, the choice, the sacrifice, the responsibility, the training, the expense, the exercise, the anxiety, the compromises, the lives lived together. I'm skeptical about rent-a-dog because I'm skeptical of anything which would allow naive people to think that dogs are simple love-machine stuffed animals.

But I can certainly think of worse things for libraries than a resident dog. At a local school library, students are taken to the library for 'library hour,' told to take chairs, and then have to watch a tv infomercial advertising Scholastic books and gear.

That really upsets me.

laura k said...

That's awful - any forced advertising is - but at least it's for Scholastic, which donates tons of books to school libraries. Better than Coke or McD's or Walmart.

Therapy dogs do so much good, and the dogs benefit from it too. I can't see any harm coming from that. It's not "rent a dog" - it's a dog with a job. And we know dogs love to have purpose in their lives.

Not to say that there isn't room for abuse, but there always is.

laura k said...

I think everyone should have at least one dog

I totally disagree - and I think you do, too. Many people should NOT have dogs.

johngoldfine said...

You're right, of course--I completely misspoke. Many people should not be allowed to have fleas and lice, much less dogs.

laura k said...

I was quite sure we agreed on that. :)

I appreciate your concern for the therapy dog, too.