New Coffee Bar Adds Flavor to a Modern UCSF Library

By Kemi Amin

Caffé Central's grand opening at the UCSF Parnassus Library's main level will occur at noon on Wednesday, May 20. Photo by Michele Mizejewski

Back in 2010 Jim Munson envisioned adding a coffee bar at the UC San Francisco Parnassus Library to bring a jolt of inspiration to a modern-day activities hub designed to foster a collaborative social atmosphere. His concept – called “the Living Room” – transformed an outdated core reference area into a casual meet-up and study space on the main floor, which was completed in March 2013. A coffee bar was recently added and library officials have teamed up with Campus Life Services to host a grand opening celebration at noon on May 20.

For many at the library the new café is an effort to extend a new welcome mat to the UCSF community.

“I anticipate that Caffé Central will become a destination that brings people into the library who don’t regularly visit,” said Kirk Hudson, manager of Tech Commons and Facilities. “I want people to rediscover the library.”

Munson’s original plan five years ago was considered ambitious and he encountered his fair share of challenges along the way. Determined to execute on his vision, Munson continued to push forward with the Living Room concept, while keeping the coffee bar idea alive by installing plumbing hookups under the floor. He patiently waited for the day his coffee bar concept could become a reality.

“The idea was to create a welcoming place for serendipitous meet-ups of students and faculty in between classes and for staff members to catch up on work between shuttle rides,” said Munson, director of operations and finance at the UCSF Library.

A New Addition

In collaboration with Campus Life Services and Capital Programs, the library will welcome Caffé Central to its main floor space two years after the Living Room made its debut.

Jim Munson, director of operations and finance at the UCSF Library, stands in front of the new Caffé Central. Photo by Kemi Amin

“With the new café in place, the Living Room is now complete, buzzing with activity, casual conversation and informal study, exactly as I imagined five years ago,” Munson said.

The new addition to the library marks the third location for Caffé Central. “(It) began with the idea to provide gourmet, third-wave coffee using the highest quality, organic beans that are locally roasted,” said owner Ramin Vahabi in a recent Campus Life Services profile of the café. “By preparing our drinks with carefully measured accuracy, we deliver a unique coffee experience.”

The coffee bar not only offers great tasting artisanal coffee, but also a rotating menu of other beverages, pastries, fresh salads and sandwiches.

“I am thrilled to see the library becoming more and more of a social and cultural epicenter for the Parnassus Campus,” said Daniel Lowenstein, MD, executive vice chancellor and provost. “The more we can bring students, faculty and staff together from across all the schools the better, and the library is the ideal place to make this happen.”

The Living Room has quickly become the library’s main floor centerpiece with students, faculty and staff alike using the area as envisioned. This transformation is part of a larger goal of reimagining space in the library to adapt to the changing landscape of learning and working environments.

Activating Change, Supporting Education

Library staff recognized the relationship between physical spaces and technological systems to support education. In 2011 the UCSF four professional schools, educational technologists, students and the library collaborated on the Teaching and Learning Center (TLC) on the second floor of the Parnassus location.

“For me, the creation of the Teaching and Learning Center in the library signaled so many important developments in education at UCSF,” said Gail Persily, director of Educational Technology Initiatives at the Library. “Foremost was the collaboration between the different schools and the library to create a learning environment that inspired innovation and was flexible enough to meet a wide range of needs.”

Designing flexible spaces and remaining responsive to the needs of the UCSF community have been top priorities. The library continued the work of providing adaptive spaces with the October 2014 opening of The Hub as well as the opening of The Hideout in Mission Hall at the Mission Bay campus.

These "Noise Zone" icons will appear throughout the UCSF Library’s Parnassus building to help guide patrons understand what noise level is acceptable for a particular area.

The Hub is an active work area designed for collaborative activity, group projects and meet-ups. It offers a variety of clustered furniture, whiteboard walls, treadmill workstations, and a printer. The Hideout is a quiet space intended for solitary study with individual study carrels, some height-adjustable desks, and tables.

A noise level coding system was also created for the library spaces to map out different areas for study, research and collaboration. These noise zones are marked throughout the Parnassus Library by color-coded signs that identify the following areas:

  • Active Learning – Engaging and collaborative activity with moderate talking and noise
  • Mobile Friendly – Areas to make calls without disturbing others who are learning
  • Considerate Study – A minimal talking environment for those who prefer a low level of noise while working
  • Quiet Study – A no talking environment for quiet and intensive study, reflection, problem solving, and other complex work that requires deep concentration

The goal of the system is to maintain a balance among the variety of uses of the library's resources: individual study, group study, collaborative projects, technology assistance, research consultations, service desk transactions and social interactions.

With the café upcoming grand opening on May 20, the library is looking forward to attracting more UCSF people to 530 Parnassus Ave. The official event will begin with a ribbon cutting ceremony at noon, followed by a season finale “Music in the Library” performance in the Living Room until 1 pm. Prior to the grand opening, Caffé Central will serve free coffee tastings (while supplies last) from 8 am to 11 am on May 20 only.

For more internal-facing stories from the UCSF community, please visit Inside UCSF.