At today's MLibrary 2.0 event on Gaming and Social Networking, Eli Neiburger described the library as the "third space" -- a place that is neither work nor home, and a place where people gather informally. Ann Arbor District Library has become a third space for teens in the city because of the gaming tournaments they hold, creative teen-focused events, and as evidenced by the massive crowd turnout this afternoon, hosting Harry and the Potters and Draco and the Malfoys for a parking lot rock concert.
He drew a lot of comparisons between the teens he works and plays with and the undergraduates that we serve at the academic library. While the public library has always had a mission of being that third space, the "people's university," it's only recently that academic libraries have had such a strong desire to become that third space as well. Coffee shops have sprung up on campuses everywhere; stacks have been cleared to make way for new study spaces; wireless computing is not a luxury or a bonus - it's taken for granted.
Lisa Hinchliffe of UIUC's Undergraduate Library also talks about academic libraries in this way. Having big collections and being a top-ten research library simply isn't enough anymore. If our target audience is the 18 - 22 crowd, we've got to do more than just have "stuff" -- we've got to be that third space.
UIUC's done a lot to do that. Lisa talks about the reasoning for installing a coffee shop in the undergraduate library. Students are going to need to take a break while studying. If they leave the library building to go somewhere for refreshment, then the chances of them coming back and finishing their work at the library is lessened. Having refreshments there in the building gives students a space to work hard, take a break, and then work hard once more.
I love this notion of third space, and it's easy to see how the concept has played out in my own life. When Stacey (my spouse) and I get bored, we usually spend a few hours at either the public library, Espresso Royale, or a bookstore. Unfortunately, the way we use these spaces is less social than the ideal third space -- we don't end up meeting new people or engaging with others in conversations. Rather, these spaces give us a chance to browse new books or read ones we already own (and getting our caffeine fix).
I also think of my father's Saturday breakfasts. Each Saturday, without having to call or plan, he can show up to John's Cafe in Garland, TX and expect to see a couple of his friends there. Discussions about vinyl, music, and peoples' record collections happen. While John's Cafe is by no means a general public's "third space," I imagine it fulfills that role for my dad and his friends.
What's needed is a combination of these two ideas. A place where people go and can get refreshed, and a place where people socialize. That's the ideal third space. Does UM have that in its libraries? I'm not sure it does... yet. Speaking only about the grad, people DO use it. There's never a shortage of patrons in our building. But we don't see the unexpected socializing and recreation that could be happening. Sure, on the eve of exams when everyone and their dogs are at the library, friends run in to each other, but it's not an everyday occurrence.
How do we turn an academic library buried beneath a history of being a quiet, reverent study space into a truly social third space? UIUC's using games. Aside from the cultural significance video games have had over the last few decades, they collect games to make connections to students. The coffee shop is another way.
When I asked Eli about the role librarians play in the shaping of a third space, he said we should not just be the keeper of the keys, but also participants. Even if it's just once, he said, when a librarian plays a round of Dance Dance Revolution, the librarian is part of the social and recreational life of the library and the people there.
That's appealing. And I think that the notion of a social space is appealing to our younger patrons as well. Not only can you study and use the resources of the library, but you can play, chat, eat, drink and enjoy just being at the library.
Providing games and beverages may seem like selling out or trying to compete with commercial establishments like coffee shops and bookstores, but if it's something our patrons need to do between spurts of studying (or they need these attractions to introduce them to the library in the first place), wouldn't providing these things really be supporting the way they learn and grow, not just play?
Bravo to our panelists for providing excellent, compelling arguments for thinking about these types of library services. In addition, I must give kudos to Lisa Hinchliffe who gave perhaps the only plausible explanation for academic libraries and librarians like me to play in Second Life: "Avatar-driven 3-D online worlds are not going away. Second Life and Linden Labs may not go on for ever, and there may not be a lot of people there now, but going there and figuring out what libraries can do in these environments will prepare us for when a world like this does become ubiquitous." Thanks. Once of the biggest criticisms I've had of spending time in Second Life has been the inability to identify a critical mass of UM students to work with; I think I've been too wrapped up in the present to consider the value of being in Second Life to future library work.
I also want to applaud Lisa for her slides detailing good qualities for librarians in leadership roles: be passionate and be compassionate. Bravo!!
Thanks also to all the MLibrary 2.0 planning committee that put this stuff together. I really enjoyed it!