While my last post focused on technology in libraries, now we will look at the behavior of people in libraries. Earlier this month, several Ridgefield Library staff attended the Connecticut Library Association’s annual conference, where this year’s theme was “Your Library: The Third Place.” The concept of “third places,” a phrase coined by sociologist Ray Oldenburg, has become a major focus of thinking about libraries in our communities. By definition locations where we congregate apart from home and school/work (the first and second places), third places encourage and accommodate gathering together, formally or informally, to interact freely and openly as members of the community for civic discourse and social exchange.
In the Ridgefield Library, this can be the young parents who swap childrearing tips while waiting for their youngsters to emerge from story time, or older adults who frequent our several monthly book discussion groups. It also encompasses a broad range of serendipitous conversations between staff and patrons, townspeople who catch up on local news, fellow readers sharing favorite books, seasoned computer users giving a helping hand to an Internet neophyte, art appreciators meeting and talking over the latest exhibit in the Dayton Program Room. From the casual conversation of neighbors who run into each other in the stacks to panel discussions on topics like immigration and global warming, the Library does indeed provide an important and vibrant venue for community discourse. While “Library 2.0” focuses on ways we can join cyberspace conversations in a virtual library, the CLA conference provided many examples of ways to enhance person-to-person communication in a physical community center as part of our mission to be a place that “encourages all to read, to discover, to question, to exchange ideas, to grow.” In the 21st century, libraries and their patrons will learn to thrive in both spheres – join us for the journey!