The Public Library as a ‘Third Place’, by Julia Metcalf, Oxford Library Director
Public libraries are often referred to as a ‘third place,’ a term coined by Ray Oldenburg in his 1990 book, The Great Good Place.  That reference is to “neutral social surroundings separate from home and work/school.
A third place is typically inexpensive or free, provides a welcoming and comfortable environment, and makes it easy to enter into conversation.  In this community, the public library aligns perfectly with that definition.
According to Kevin Harris, author of a book about public libraries as a third place, “all societies need places that allow informal interaction without requiring it, places that are rich in the possibility of the safe, mundane encounter…”  With an average of 50 people coming through our doors most days, this is definitely a possibility at our library.  Third places make people feel at home, foster friendships, and create a sense of community.
People from all walks of life can meet and become acquainted with each other at the library, where there are opportunities to make connections, relax, and discuss what is happening in the community and in their own lives.
As library director, I see frequent and regular examples of the library as a third place – caregivers mingling before and after story times, their young interacting with other children perhaps for the first time.  It takes some doing to learn how to listen to someone other than his or her caregiver reading or giving him instruction.  Story hour is the perfect safe place for a child to gain confidence, learn how to interact with others and step away from the apron strings before he or she makes that big leap into Kindergarten.
Don’t forget those great adult book discussions with their interesting pot luck meals.  You don’t have to read the book to participate, just come.  Hopefully the book discussion will inspire you to read it or save you the misery.  P.S. No time to read?  You can get most books on CDs from the library, or you can download them for free from the library to your E reader.  Each book is carefully selected to give you that, “Oh no, I am almost finished!” feeling and they are so good you want to hold them up with two hands like a boxer holds his winning belt.  A plug for joining a group is that this kind of activity is one often quoted by professionals in strategies dealing with stress reduction.  Book clubs are good for you.  The relationships they build over the years, the common activity with others, the mental stimulus, these are all positives a person can do.
Notice the children and teens coming in regularly after school.  If there is any unfinished homework, a licensed teacher with special training in remedial reading is available to assist.  That’s just during the school year.  An unbelievable amount of reading goes on in the neighborhood during summer break.  The Summer Reading Program is starting to produce praiseworthy results: an unprecedented number of readers completing the entire program, also, an unprecedented number of readers earning double points for practicing fluency techniques by reading out loud.  One grandparent reported a 12 month leap in her granddaughter’s reading placement last fall and attributed that to the Summer Reading Program.
Adults attending special library programs and community groups, businesses and residents using the available Community Room are already thinking intuitively about the library as a third place.  There could be more.  Make your tax dollars work as hard as possible.  Make your library more of your third place.  Every Tuesday evening something good is going on:  you can learn how to knit, improve your penmanship, read to a certified R.E.A.D.  Dog or learn something new on the computer.
The Friends of the Library Christmas party is coming up on December 10th.   Wannabees and Present Tense Participators are all invited.  We will be sharing our vision and strategic plan template.  Elections will be in January, and then we will begin mapping out that template.
Bylaws will be reviewed and voted upon and it is my hypothesis that an incredibly productive and exciting year will begin to unfold.  The Friends of the Library are an important spoke of the wheel.
Haven’t used a computer much?  Come in!  Someone can sit next to you and teach you exactly what it is you need to do.  Call for an appointment for our Tech Tuesday openings.  Don’t even know why you would want to use a computer?  How much time do we have…?  I would venture to guess most computer usage here is for job searching and online applications, Facebook, ordering in books from our consortium (30 libraries), buying and selling on eBay, checking on one’s bank balance, up-to-date medical advice, games and plain old information access. 
Don’t want to learn but do want to access information?  The answer is ‘yes’, we can help you do that.  The Internet is your most up to date source of information available, but if you are not computer savvy, we would be more than happy to show you what to do.  And remember, Librarians must live by a strict code of ethics whereby your privacy is guaranteed.  Others before me have defined our rights as American citizens to freedom of access privileges.  Could you ever imagine living in a nation where information is locked and you are told what to believe?  Or where there is no internet access at all?
Not much of a crowd lover but you’d like to do something?   No problem.  Posted on the bulletin board next to the computers is a list of things folks can do to help wherever or whenever.  I am deeply moved by the people who have shown their feelings for their library by asking what can they do or what does the library need.  Projects are small, transportable, well-defined, and in most cases, packaged with all the supplies needed.  Don’t be shy.  Just come take a peek and see if there is something on that list you might enjoy doing.  Right now we need umpteen miniature mattresses for The Princess and the Pea.  The fabric and thread await your nimble fingers.
Our community has many places where people can gather.  It’s wonderful that such a small village had the foresight to prepare this space for the information and community gathering we count on every day.  The library brings people together in ways that strengthen the community, and we’re all the better off because of it.
I hope you stop in soon and consider using the library as your third place.


News from the Oxford Library  10.31.13

Tail Waggin’ Read, a fun reading program here at the library, is every first and third Tuesday from 5:30-6:30 P.M.  Children can sign up any time for a chance to read for 15 minutes to a certified service dog.  The dogs are able to listen to readers with total love and respect.  Beginners are encouraged to try.  The two dogs stay in the library for one hour with their handlers and can listen to four children each.  This program is amazingly effective and successful.  Come see!  Next chance is November 5th.

The library will host a Petting Zoo on November 12th.  Come in anytime during our hours (3-7P.M.) and play with them.  The ‘animals’ are electronic devices.  Kindles, Nooks, phones, what have you.  Pick them up, learn how to turn them on, search around, and place an order for a free book from the library.  We are budgeting increasing amounts for these electronic books and they are sitting in cyber space waiting for you!  Don’t buy your books; borrow them for free from your library!

The Friends of the Library would like to invite you to their next regularly scheduled meeting.  Their meetings run only one hour which begin at 6 P.M.  The money they generate is usually multiplied by matching grants.  They could use more hands and hearts to support the big things the library does in the community.  Presently, a handmade quilt, made by Amy Sanders and the Calico Capers Quilt Guild is being raffled off by them and the Lion’s Club.  Tickets are on sale here at the library and throughout various businesses in the community.  The quilt is on display in the library.

Imagine reading 1000 books before kindergarten!  It is possible and your little genius can do it.  In no time at all, with five to ten books checked out each week, that number adds up.  HURRY to the library to get started with this Mission Impossible.

  • Reading Log
  • Prizes at gateways of every 100 books read
  • Picture in the Paper and on our Website
  • Certificate of Completion
  • Fun how-to tools on how to read to your child
  • Free Story Hour every Thursday at 10
  • Free bookbag


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