The Library as third place in the digital age
Some have suggested the move to a digital world of instant access to information spells doom for libraries of books and real things. The figures however show otherwise, as the number of public library users actually increases. Recent findings of qualitative research at a metropolitan library in Sydney show that the value of libraries is growing and that they can embrace and extend their role through the use of digital and in particular social media.
Libraries as part of their users' routineThe research showed that regular library users like to include the library within their routine – whether it is to get out of the house, to escape noise and distraction, or to find an alternative workplace. In this way, the library can be seen very much to function in a role of a third place, taken from the concept coined by Ray Oldenburg (1989). That is to say it is not the first place which would be our primary residence or home, it is not the second place which would be the workplace, but rather it is another place to socialise and connect, to escape and relax.
The purpose of the third place is to provide us with community connection, whether through passive observation or active participation. Some libraries have provided this function for many years. In fact, it is not a new concept for libraries, where a range of community activities have long been offered, and where social connections are made and ideas are shared. By supporting and implementing programs such as homework help, knitting groups, backgammon and games clubs, X-Box and other computer consoles for children, free computer help, English conversation courses, youth job clubs, author talks and writer’s workshops.
These programs connect people build friendships, add knowledge and enhance a sense of belonging. The introduction of a "coffee-shop atmosphere" to the library space has worked as another significant draw card within some libraries. The library becomes a destination or specific outing which can be combined with. One participant of the study put it this way: "It's a great way to get a lot of jobs done at once, while you're meeting up with friends."
Libraries and their role in the communitySignificantly, in the light of the increasing popularity of social media, the library as a physical third place continues to play a very important role within the community. The potential for libraries to take advantage and leverage on this position to extend their impact and reach within the community is considerable. Libraries can build into and connect with their growing digital community to support and extend this role of connection, collaboration building and facilitating community engagement.
Many of the key value added benefits of a library come from the spin-off of connections community members make within libraries. These can be difficult to discover and even harder to quantify, yet they are vitally important in a creative, knowledge-driven economy. Libraries can investigate ways how they can use social media to link up their users and facilitate these collaborations.
The full effects of a new era of ‘connection’ are only just beginning to be realised. In their role of bringing the community together and providing digital literacy, community-focused institutions such as libraries play an important role determining how life will be shaped in the future for a major portion of the population.
Against the backdrop of global urbanisation, the imperative to get the balance right in terms of providing spaces for living, working and socialising increases in meaning and value. The future of libraries in this third place – the social community space – looks bright. The demand is as pressing as ever. We may be shifting the types of literacies and the ways we use spaces, but a community library focused on providing equitable access for all will continue to be highly valued.
By Kirralie Houghton
Reference: Oldenburg, R. (1989). The Great Good Place: Cafes, Coffee Shops, Bookstores, Bars, Hairsalons and other hangouts at the heart of community. New York: Marlowe and Company. (Original work published 1989).
|Kirralie Houghton is a PhD Candidate at the Queensland University of Technology. Currently, she is working on the implications of networked interactions on the design of public urban spaces (specifically third places). Kirralie is using libraries as a case study for this research. She has published papers in Media City Conference, Planning Institute of Australia’s annual conference and has other papers currently under review.|