The Final Frontier of The Third Place: Libraries

Sabine Carey & Mar Pelaez

5/16/20244 min read

In the past few years the concept of a “third place” has grown in popularity as many young Americans have grown disillusioned with the conditions of socialization in the 21st century. “Third Place,” a term coined in the 1980s by sociologist Ray Oldenburg, refers to “informal public gathering places… places where people come together, talk, relax, rejuvenate, and create special bonds.” It is a space that is separate from the home or the office. In modern times, most third places offered to us are online, restaurants, bars, and cafes — either places you find yourself isolated or expected to spend money. In a lot of places, there’s even a term for hanging out without spending money: loitering. And it’s often illegal. While there are some wonderful, local public outdoor spaces (although, not nearly enough), they aren’t always accessible. When you get down to it, libraries are one of the only places left where you can pass the time, meet up with friends, make connections, and more … without spending money.

Besides a space to just exist, libraries offer many benefits for communities across Connecticut. To understand exactly what is available in some of our CT libraries, we visited a few and spoke with their librarians. One common service offered was access to technology. Daniella from the New Britain Public Library pointed out that many of us take our internet access, computers, and stable Wi-Fi for granted, which the library can help provide. Access to a computer opens up so many doors for individuals, such as applying for jobs, doing school work, making a DMV appointment, and email access. Libraries work closely with their communities to offer free programs such as U.S. citizenship courses, literacy support, computer skill classes, passport services, tax help, and voter and election info. Of course, there’s every library’s claim to fame: a huge selection of books. For free. Books in many different skill levels, topics, and languages, all at your fingertips. Reading and access to knowledge are crucial to equip our communities to see life from different perspectives, provide an escape for some, and promote media literacy. When discussing our childhood relationship with libraries, it was there that we first dipped our toes into it autonomy. It was through perusing the kid and teen sections that we discovered our taste and slowly formed an identity… even if that identity was being obsessed with werewolves. While these sorts of resources aren’t part of the definition of what makes a third place, they make these spaces even more of an asset to our cities and towns. These additions make our libraries more than a place you can be, but a place where you can thrive.

While books are a draw in their own right, libraries are so much more than just a place to borrow books. Libraries are also a place to have fun and build community – the perfect encapsulation of the third places we so desperately lack. After visiting 4 libraries, every library we went to had a puzzle for anyone and everyone to join in on. A few libraries have recently adopted “maker spaces'' where adults and youth can learn different techniques with access to communal materials to create art. Many libraries have extensive youth programming, such as programs to encourage reading, storytimes for different ages, and fun workshops. These activities don’t necessarily have to be “productive” or “educational” either, they can be purely for pleasure.

The importance of a physical place to just be cannot be understated — where else can you find such diverse activities, community resources, and quiet spaces to spend time without spending money? But if we as community members don’t prove their usefulness, they will be taken away. Libraries are fighting an uphill battle to get funding, combat censorship through book banning, show the importance of print media, and promote critical thinking. Support your local library and preserve these public spaces. Get a library card, visit their book sales and fairs, hang out there with your friends, get involved in programming, and inquire about hosting your own events. Love your library, because it loves you.