For my class this quarter, The Usable Library, taught by Aaron Schmidt , we were recently asked to consider libraries as Third Spaces and watch a short lecture by James Howard Kunstler (it was very interesting! go watch it). Below are my thoughts:
“When you degrade the public realm you will automatically degrade the quality of your civic life.” (Kunstlser)
This line really stuck out to me. I just returned from the YALSA Lit Symposium in Nashville and while I was there I kept exclaiming to my fellow colleague/traveling buddy how beautiful it was. It’s a city I want to go back to. The buildings (even the old rundown ones) were amazing, the downtown was fun, lively and well planned, it felt good to be there.
Where do we go to relax and enjoy? Why do we go to those places? Sure there’s usually some extrinsic reason like coffee or books or shopping, but that’s not usually why we pick that place over all the others that offer a similar thing, that’s not why we enjoy those places so much. They have some intrinsic, often intangible, value. A lot of it has to do the the environment and energy of the place. Unfortunately for libraries, most of them have a type of environment that does not encourage third space use. We don’t have a lot of sitting and gathering areas, we have rules that limit activities and noise, we feel cramped and dingy. We don’t make people feel comfortable.Lisa Ebert a library student from Dominican wrote an interesting final paper on how libraries can take third space tips from Starbucks. Her paper is entitled: Transforming Public Libraries into “Third Places”: Lessons to Be Learned from Starbucks. If we wish to become those valued third spaces (something I’m absolutely all for) we need to actively work on making the library an experience to be enjoyed and a planned destination-not just a quick stop along the way.
This will require a mind-shift though for many people - especially those who have been in the profession for many years. Like most things it's a trade off. If we allow food and drink we risk damages to books, computers and carpet...but maybe the risk is minimal compared to the benefit of people lounging around the library eating a snack and savoring a book. If we allow people to talk on their cell phones and have conversations with each other that are louder than a whisper we risk annoying staff and other patrons who have come to the library expecting a quiet place to study or apply for job...but maybe it's worth the risk so we don't anger or frustrate patrons by shushing them, so that we can allow patrons to experience the library as a social place that becomes a destination. The concerns are valid and some need a solution, but we're hitting a point in time where we need to realize that the costs do not out weigh the benefits