How can the public library help itself find a place in the community?

This is what we'll talk about during the session on Wednesday, 17 February 2021.

Heidi Barry-Rodriguez

Heidi Barry-Rodriguez (SILS MSLS 1999) will be our session leader. She would like you to think about the following, read the suggested readings, and be ready to answer the questions she poses.


Library as Third Place aka “The Starbucks Model”

Is it really about the coffee? "Third place" is a term coined by sociologist Ray Oldenburg to describe informal gathering places where people in a particular community or neighborhood meet to develop friendships, discuss issues, and interact or network with others. They have always been an important way in which the community has developed and retained cohesion and a sense of identity.

"Third places" are crucial to a community for a number of reasons:

  1. They are distinctive informal gathering places.
  2. They make people feel at home.
  3. They foster relationships and a diversity of human contact
  4. They help create a sense of place and community.
  5. They invoke a sense of civic pride.
  6. They provide numerous opportunities for serendipity.
  7. They promote friendship.
  8. They allow people to relax and unwind after a long day at work.
  9. They are socially binding.
  10. They encourage sociability instead of isolation.
  11. They make life more colorful.
  12. There are essential ingredients to a well-functioning "third place".
  13. They must be free or inexpensive.
  14. They should be a place where a number of people regularly meet.
  15. It should be a place where the person feels welcome and comfortable, where it is easy to enter into conversation.

According to Oldenburg, World War II marks the historical juncture after which informal public life began to decline in North America. Old neighborhoods and their cafes, pubs, and corner stores have fallen to urban renewal, highway expansion, and planning that discounts the importance of congenial, unified and vital neighborhoods. The newer neighborhoods have developed under the single-use zoning imperative - which makes these critical, informal social gathering places impossible to construct. Hence, the death of the third place.

To ponder:

  1. How does today's public library fit into the definition of "third place?"
  2. How about the public library of the future?
  3. Does a public library really meet the criteria for a successful third place?
  4. How much does the SPACE itself matter?
  5. What changes would have to come about to meet these criteria?
  6. How can the public library participate in a virtual third place?

Read these and plan to post a consideration about them.

  1. How libraries and bookstores became the new community centersM/a>, Micheal Scott, New Geography, 30 January 2012
    • Do you agree of disagree - are public libraries a third place in the community. If so, why? If not, why not?
    • What can the library do to be a third place?
  2. Libraries lean on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram to reel you in, Marguerite Reardon, C/Net, 11 April 2019

We'll spend some time discussing these readings in light of current perceptions and realities.

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