Libraries- an essential third place?

I recently posted a Rebuttal to Dewey Decimal Jokes, highlighting some articles that dispute the idea that books/libraries are becoming obsolete.  A recent article published by The Brookings Institution (a nonprofit public policy group), “How public libraries help build health communities,” goes even further and describes libraries as essential community meeting places. Third places are meeting places outside of home or work, such as a church, barbershop, bar, or library where people meet up regularly. For more information on the characteristics of third places, check out this 2008 NYLA Annual Conference presentation.


Viewing the library as not just an information repository, but as a physical space provides a more comprehensive view of the importance of libraries.  I think that most people support the idea that libraries improve social capital; however, many people overlook the social contribution of libraries. Another related topic that I will explore in another post is the library as a physical space, many libraries have been renovated to accommodate less books and more meeting places but this article is focused on libraries as part of the community fiber.

Training classes, webinars, computer access, and staff are all tools used by libraries to provide citizens with information about housing, healthcare, legal aid, and other issues affecting those in need.  My local library, Denver Public Library (DPL) is one of the few libraries in the U.S. with social workers on staff, and it has started another program with Peer Navigators, a topic I discussed in another post. An similar program offered at the Hartford, Connecticut Public Library, The American Place (TAP), helps immigrants by providing legal advice, help from “volunteer cultural navigators,” English and citizenship classes, and other services designed to ease the transition. This isn’t something libraries are taking on begrudgingly, they have done what they have always done: located a community need and responded.

One final aspect of this article that is important, especially in terms of community, are the partnerships that libraries have with other stakeholders in an area. Just this week, a local free newspaper Westword published a video explaining that 3D printers are available at DPL’s ideaLAB. This innovative tool is one way that the library has evolved to attract young, curious designers and marketing through the local paper shows a partnership that helps both entities. Programs specifically designed to help marginalized groups feel comfortable and supported, along with symbiotic relationships between libraries and other groups make a strong case that libraries are essential third places. The Brookings article ends with this suggestion:

“More policymakers and government officials need to recognize this, and incorporate libraries into budgets and plans to build a culture of health and upwardly mobile communities.”

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