Digital Library as Third Place

A few days ago, Peter Bromberg of Library Garden posted a version of an essay called “Library as Place”. I had the good fortune to meet Peter at Library Camp a few weeks ago, and I wholeheartedly agree with the arguments of his essay. However, I feel it is important that we, as librarians, look beyond the walls of the library when discussing library as place. We need to expand our vision to include digital library as place. We are already doing this implicitly by incorporating social tools such as blogs and wikis into our websites. However, by explicately acknowledging this phenomenon, we can utilize what we already know about the physical library as place when building online communities. In fact, I originally created my Academic Library 2.0 Concept Model to demonstrate the parallels between physical and virtual library places. It was only after completing the model that I took the additional step of recognizing the virtual library places as Library 2.0.

Academic Library 2.0 Concept Model Basic v2

Academic Library 2.0 Concept Model Basic v2
(green = third place)

When discussing library as place, Peter brings in the concept of “third place”. It is exactly this version of physical library as place that my model hopes to parallel in the virtual world. Peter explains:

By our very nature we offer people a “third place” (not home, not work) where they can come to explore, imagine, think, learn, play, and reflect. Our function as a “third place” has never been more important to our continued health and relevance. If libraries are to survive and thrive we must redouble our efforts and refocus our energies to ensure that we are not only “third places” but destinations of choice.

Taken in a different context, isn’t this exactly what we are trying to transform our web sites into? MySpace, Facebook, and Flickr are wonderful examples of the online third places that people spend their time. What is different about the virtual world is that it is easier to incorporate the library into other third places. For example, if a patron is on your library’s MySpace page, then it could be argued that they are both at MySpace and your Library.

For those who are having trouble conceptualizing of the web as a place, lets look at the example of Second Life instead. As a 3D virtual world, Second Life is more obviously a place. The Second Life Library 2.0 is also the most obvious example of digital library as third place. If a patron is at their house on their computer in Second Life at Library 2.0, where are they? If they are focused enough, they are at the Second Life Library 2.0. Where we are is often more mental than it is physical. By embracing this concept, we will be able to build more compelling physical and virtual places. How might we go about this? Peter asks the following:

Why would someone in our community choose to spend their time here rather than somewhere else? Related questions might be: What does the library look like, smell like, feel like, and sound like? What do our signs communicate? What kind of environment are we offering to the community and how do library staff contribute to the creation of a friendly, welcoming environment?

Outside of smell, couldn’t we apply all of these questions to our websites? To conclude, the next time you find yourself discussing “library as place”, please ask how the discussion would apply to the online world.

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2 thoughts on “Digital Library as Third Place”

  1. Pingback: Tech IT Easy » What place does the web take?

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