Hangout places are sometimes called “Third Places” (as opposed to home and work, places one and two for most of us). A Third Place is informal, provides opportunities for conversation, allows us to interact with other people. The originator of the term wrote: “Nothing contributes so much to one’s sense of belonging to a community as much as ‘membership’ in a third place.” (Ray Oldenburg, The Great Good Place, 1999)
Oldenburg wrote that Third Places should
- Be accessible physically (walkability) as well as financially (free or cheap)
- Be welcoming
- Be “leveling” – meaning access or accommodation doesn’t depend on social status
- Have regular patrons and new people to meet, and
- Have a comfortable, conversational atmosphere.
Coffee shops and bookstores have become Third Places, though in this article, the author argues that coffee shops are not Third Places when they’re full of people on laptops and smartphones, which doesn’t encourage interaction or conversation. (I disagree; you engage as much or as little as you want to wherever you are, though the configuration of some places is more encouraging than others.)
I was at museum camp in Santa Cruz, California last week. I figured museum camp would be full of art and history and museum geeks like me, which it was, but I was surprised by how many librarians were there. A lot. And it made me want to be a librarian.
I had a too-short conversation with a librarian from Illinois about how her library and other libraries (and museums and museums again) are re-orienting their missions to be cultural and community centers – Third Places. Not just silent, secular Altars of Culture. But like museums and downtowns and every place that depends on people, libraries need to be relevant. “Not so long ago, the future of public libraries appeared uncertain. What, wondered thousands of (usually digital) think pieces, would happen to those hallowed halls of books in the age of the e-reader, the audio book app, the personal hotspot? Well, it turns out that it wasn’t librarians lacking imagination. It was all those writers. Public library systems are reinventing themselves as community spaces, where classes and meet-up groups, and special events and makers thrive.” (Createquity.com, 9/7/16)
Learning doesn’t just happen in books. Libraries still have story hours and book clubs to bring people together, and are supplementing their literary services with exhibits, presentations, films, board game nights, classes, music, author events, and in some places, even coffee shops. I found one that loans out cake pans. Createquity continues: “Seattle offers its public library cardholders access to free downloads of local music. In Erie, PA, the public library system is experimenting with mobile Wi-Fi hotpots, to help kids without access to broadband at home to keep up with their homework. Believe it or not, in Finland, a public library near Helsinki doubles as a karaoke bar.” (Createquity.com, 9/7/16)
Which makes sense. There aren’t any other free indoor meeting places in most towns (for when you’ve consumed all the $6 coffees you can stand). The thing is, every Carnegie library had a “lecture room,” which was intended to be a community center – a third place. So libraries are actually going old-school, back to the standard set by Carnegie libraries over 100 years ago. Kudos, librarians, for embracing change and your roots at the same time.
Bonus Material! Cool Libraries
In communities where Carnegie libraries remain, they are likely among the most interesting historical structures in town. Here in Cadillac we have a quite fabulous Carnegie library. It now houses our Wexford County Historical Museum. Here is Cadillac’s Carnegie library, current and original, showing the unfortunate loss of the front entrance.
Traverse City’s Carnegie library was in the news a couple of years ago; the local history museum located there was no longer able to deal with maintenance and upkeep costs, and wanted to give it back to the city, which didn’t really want it either. Happy ending though; it’s now a cool art center.
Here is a list of all the Carnegie libraries built in Michigan.
Here is a slide show of interesting libraries that landed in my in-basket recently, and not a Carnegie in the bunch.
Another favorite type of library is the Little Free Libraries that are springing up all over. I love their architecture almost as much as Carnegie libraries’ (clicking on that link will result in a serious time suck). And they can complement any kind of third place (schools, art centers and museums, I’m looking at you) and build relationships between neighbors.
As always, thanks for reading! If you want to share your thoughts, you can use the comment section below, or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.