Diverging from the archival theme, I noticed a post on one of my regular technology-related feeds that really struck me, and is related to the information profession…but definitely not specifically to archives, so bear with me.
Web Worker Daily posted a “What is Your Third Place?” open thread, primarily discussing where telecommuters/web workers go in order to counterract the feelings of isolation that working from home can sometimes cause, and I was a little sad (but not incredibly surprised) that no one in the comments section mentioned the library as their “third place.”
I’m having a bit of trouble with the concept of “third place,” (a term coined by Ray Oldenberg in his books “Celebrating the Third Place” and “The Great, Good Place“) as it seems to be tied closely to the terms “public” or “civic space,” (a place that is paid for by all, for all people), but the term “third space” doesn’t differentiate (at least from what I can tell) between commercial and non-commercial space…it’s just the place where you go that is not-work and not-home (as well as meeting Oldenburg’s “eight criteria,” which you can find in “The Great, Good Place”).
Increasingly, corporations (Starbucks, Panera, Borders) have co-opted many of the aspects associated with “third place,” (heck, Howard Schultz, the head of Starbucks, even markets Starbucks as a “third place”). Don’t get me wrong, I love coffee shops, bookstores, and restaurants, I think they are vital parts of a creative, connected community. However, due to their commercial nature, I can’t agree with Ray Oldenburg when he calls them “neutral public spaces.” Staring at that sentence, I realize how ridiculous it is that I’m disagreeing with the person who coined the term in the first place, but I don’t see how a place that exists primarily to get the people who enter it to spend their money could be seen as neutral.
So, what happens when, as is mentioned in the Chronicle of Higher Ed. article I’ve linked to below, libraries add on a Starbucks? Does this diminish their status as a third place? Does the digital environment of MMOGs constitute another legitimate third place? (P.S., David Lee King and the good folks at It’s All Good (four OCLC bloggers) have some interesting things to say on this topic)
I’m not entirely sure what the answers to those or many of the other questions that are swirling around in my mind when it comes to this idea. But, much like everything else on this blog, I’m sure I’ll re-visit it at some point with at least a slightly clearer idea of what I do actually think. :)
More articles on this subject. I’m being rebellious and not using APA format.
- “Library as Place: Rethinking Roles, Rethinking Space,” Council on Library and Information Resources, Washington D.C., February 2005.
- “The Library as a Place: Tradition and Evolution” William Miller, Library Issues, Vol. 22, No. 3, January 2002.
- “The Deserted Library: As Students Work Online, Reading Rooms Empty Out — Leading Some Campuses to Add Starbucks” – Scott Carlson, The Chronicle of Higher Education, November 16, 2001.
- “Working Out of a Third Place” Marco R. della Cava, USA Today, October 4, 2006.