Municipal libraries are urged to offer coffee and cakes

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The Independent Online

Public libraries are being urged to copy bookshops by introducing comfortable sofas and serving coffee and cakes to transform a visit into a social experience.

Public libraries are being urged to copy bookshops by introducing comfortable sofas and serving coffee and cakes to transform a visit into a social experience.

In a 10-year strategy document published today, the Department for Culture, Media and Sport recommends the sort of Starbucks-style makeovers that have revolutionised retail chains such as Books etc and Waterstone's. Extending opening hours in the evenings and on Sundays also forms part of the blueprint.

Baroness Blackstone, the Arts minister, will cite the new branch in Peckham, south London – which won the Stirling Prize for building of the year in 2000 – as an example of how a library should work.

Traditionally, libraries have enjoyed enormous support. More people visit libraries than attend football matches or the cinema, according to official statistics. "But user numbers are starting to go down, with young people in particular losing the library habit once they leave school," a Culture Department source said.

Another attraction in the new-style library will be expert tuition for the public in how to create websites and develop other IT skills. This would extend the People's Network, a lottery-funded scheme that has made the internet available in every public library.

Traditionalists can be reassured that books have not been entirely forgotten. Libraries are to be encouraged to run summer reading challenges and after-school homework clubs. And every library will be expected to take part in the Bookstart scheme, which gives all babies a free book and a library ticket when they get their nine-month health check.

No extra money will be provided by the department, which sees the strategy as a framework for local authorities and funding agreements in future.

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