From the Unconference: The library as your community’s Third Place

Editor’s Note: We’re inviting people to contribute thoughts and ideas sparked by the recent ILA Leadership Forum Unconference. Send contributions to l-barnes at illinois dot edu. The following guest post is from Alissa Williams, Assistant Director at the Pekin Public Library. Alissa is also chair of the ILA Reporter Advisory Committee.

At the Leadership Unconference, we had an interesting conversation about library sustainability. I’ve advocated since graduate school for libraries to become the third place in their community. The idea of the third place comes from Ray Oldenburg’s 1989 book “The Great Good Place” – people have a third place, not your home, not your work, but another place to chill. In the early 2000s, Starbucks was striving to be the third place for America. So what did libraries do? They installed a coffee shop, as if that will convince the community you’re a cool place to hang out. Of course, we’re now seeing empty coffee shop spaces in libraries — a victim to both the economic recession and a lack of awareness of what your community truly needs.

In order to be the third space for your community, you have to get hyper local. Libraries are great about sharing/borrowing/stealing ideas and sometimes we take the entire idea and plop it in to our town and wonder why it’s not a raging success like it was in Naperville, Ann Arbor, or Colorado. To make these projects successful, you need to identify the thing your community needs. NOT what the state needs, not what the community the next town over needs, but what your residents/taxpayers/service base need.

Lynn Elam shared a great example of the preschool directory her library developed. Parents were coming to the library, looking for one place with information on preschools, and a great library resource and partnership was born.

I believe in the library as a destination. One of our greatest assets is our meeting rooms and gathering spaces. The library is neutral ground for people to meet. Market your study rooms to small business for daytime use as a space they can meet with clients. Naperville is doing the library as a destination really well by bringing in traveling exhibits and busing children to the library.

Make the library a place where people can stay and not just come and take something. Let’s make it the third place for your community.


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