The Library: No Longer a Book Warehouse, but a Third Space

The “third space” is a concept I originally came across in terms of museums. Back in the day, I worked at a small public museum as an entry level administrator. To keep my mind of the tedium of administration, and to prepare for the career in museums I thought I might enjoy, I did some reading, attended the AAM conference, and learned about museums and their visitors, and the approaches museums take in order to continue to be important and welcoming spaces. Of course, it was an informal study, and several years later, I no longer remember what sources I found about the “third space.”

An article I found via Twitter* this morning gives Ray Oldenburg credit for starting the conversation about the importance of the “third space”:

…the idea popularized by American writer Ray Oldenburg. His 1989 book The Great Good Place argued that “third places” – cafés, barber shops and bookstores, where people gather and talk separate from where they live or where they work – are the foundations of civil society.

This article, from yesterday’s Global Mail, is titled “The Library is Not Just a Book Warehouse Anymore.” In it, the author discusses the evolution of libraries in to third spaces, that encourage “hanging out,” gathering, and community, as well as the tensions that arise out of this change. It should not come as a surprise that many libraries can only focus on one of these aspects, i.e. books, or community gathering spaces. Making that choice has led to some criticism and concern about the real purpose of libraries.

One of the things libraries will no doubt be working through in the near future is the new definition of a library. Is it a space where patrons and communities can come together to spend time doing things they enjoy, in groups or singly? Is it a repository for books and printed materials, a sort of archive or museum that preserves what a library used to be? Will it provide some sort of balance between the two concepts – a place for gathering and a place to borrow and read printed materials? Most likely, the answer for each library will depend on its community and the views of its patrons, although I doubt many old-fashioned, print-focused libraries will succeed. Technology is changing, and with it, so must libraries if they wish to remain relevant and valuable to their patrons and communities.

*One of my favorite uses of Twitter I learned from Librarian By Day, who introduced me to the Lists feature of Twitter. For several months, I have found my “libraries” list to be incredibly useful and interesting. It helps me keep up to date with issues in digitization, online privacy, books, and intellectual property, among others. I also find book reviews and trends in books, as well as updates and events from my local libraries and online library media.

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