The Cavalier Daily
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New Cybercafé serves more than just coffee

Black and white pictures on the walls of the Alderman Café depict the library 30 years ago -- containing little more than rows of card catalogs and a checkered floor. Few would have guessed the Memorial Hall of Alderman Library might someday house the "Alderman Cybercafé" where students and faculty balance wireless computers atop their laps, sip steaming lattes and glance though books and newspapers.

Earlier this semester the Alderman Café underwent a sizeable expansion, adding new plush armchairs, tables and carpets in an area formerly occupied by out-of-date card catalogs. Now, wireless laptops are available for students and faculty members to check out and use in the café and throughout the library.

Linda Lester, Alderman director for reference and information services, said the library recognized that students and faculty would benefit from an expansion to the café.

"We really saw a need for people to have a place," Lester said.

Lester, a small woman in a red sweater, sits behind her desk and explains how the Cybercafé began as a collaboration between the Library and ITC.

"ITC was looking for a public place to use the wireless computers at the same time we were thinking of expanding," she said.

Alderman now has 10 wireless Dell computers that can be checked out for three hour periods in addition to the new sitting area adjacent to the café.

Lester said she has noticed Alderman has become busier since the Cybercafé opened.

"I think it's an indication that students are coming into Alderman and we want to encourage that," she said.

The character of Alderman has seen a gradual shift ever since the café opened in 1998. Originally an area inhabited almost exclusively by studious graduate students, the introduction of the café provided a social spot in Alderman that had not previously existed.

Initially, the Faculty Senate wanted Alderman Café to be a place "where students and faculty could meet."

Since its opening, the café has enjoyed a gradual increase in popularity, especially among undergraduates. Now, the café has further accelerated its popularity among students and faculty with a new expansion and the introduction of wireless laptops.

One woman who said she has observed this shift at the café is Alderman Café supervisor Diane McLellan. Every weekday she peers out over her half-moon spectacles and smiles at all the customers who approach the counter.

McLellan said she can usually predict which regular customers will line up at the café in the morning and also knows what each person likes to order.

"We still have all the regular customers in here morning, noon and night but I have definitely seen a lot of new faces in here this semester," she said.

McLellan has been working behind the coffee bar since its opening, and said she believes the café has really become a popular place, especially with the addition of the wireless laptop computers.

"The café has transformed itself into a social meeting place," she added.

Glancing around at the crowd of students lounging in the new plush seats, McLellan said she is amazed how busy the café has become.

"I don't know what we're going to do when exam week comes around," she said.

She added that her favorite aspect of the working at the café is that "the atmosphere is never stagnant" and that she consistently meets new people.

The opening of the Cybercafé needed no public relations boost and "sold itself," said Melissa Norris, Public Relations Coordinator for Alderman Library.

She said the Cybercafé has been a great way to attract undergraduates to Alderman and believes the expansion has proven itself to be a great success.

"When they were setting up the new area, they put the stacked new furniture in rows. But the minute they left, students flocked over to the chairs and arranged everything themselves," she said.

The chairs are the spot of choice for several TAs who hold office hours in the café. College graduate student Ted Powers, who is a TA for GFIR 360, Ethics and Human Rights, said he makes a beeline for "the comfy chairs" four days out of the week during his office hours.

Although Powers said not many students saunter over to interrupt his morning coffee and tomato bagel during his relatively early morning office hours, he really enjoys the atmosphere.

"I really like the new place," he said.

He added that the café is a nice place to meet students because of its central location and an environment conducive to conversation.

"I tried to hold office hours downtown at a place like Espresso Royale, but I always ended up having to give directions," Powers said. "But this is more central -- everyone knows where it is."

But students sometimes encounter large crowds in the café later in the day, causing difficulties in finding a chair or a space at a table. For some students, the tight squeeze can prevent them from spending time in the café.

Third-year College student Charles Olmsted said he frequents the café less since the new addition.

"I actually come here less often - sometimes there seem to be too many people here," Olmsted said.

Although Olmsted said he sees the crowding at the café as a drawback, he said he usually enjoys the atmosphere but travels to quieter areas for more serious study.

"There's this nice sort of loud background where everyone's working. You can have tea and coffee and work as well," he said.

Olmsted added that he also enjoys using the wireless computers to check e-mail, although he said he wishes he could check them out for longer than three hours at a time.

Still, Olmsted said he likes the fact that he can see many of his friends throughout the day at the café and believes that he has seen them frequenting Alderman more than usual.

"I get the impression that there are a lot more people coming into the café this semester from Clemons and other places," he said.


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