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The Library as Third Space

I’m always thinking about how the school library should function as part of a whole school. Often, public libraries are called “third spaces,” i.e., “where you go and spend time in addition to your home and workplace. … ‘Third places’ are
‘anchors’ of community life and facilities and foster broader, more creative interaction” (Library as the Third Place).

School libraries are a little different, sometimes. Classes are often brought to the library as an extension of the classroom. Students find books, research, use the computers, access databases, etc. This would classify the library as part of a student’s workplace (i.e., school), and not a place outside of it. Sometimes, students are given passes to the library, again, as an extension of classwork, and expected to return to class in a matter of minutes after completing a task, such as printing a paper. During class times, the library is expected to be relatively quiet, or at least as quiet as the teacher’s classroom would be.

However, other hallmarks of third space are integral parts of a school library:

  • free or inexpensive; check. In fact, many school libraries don’t even charge late fees for books, only replacement costs if a book is lost or damaged beyond repair; 
  • food and drink, while not essential, are important; some school libraries allow students to bring in food, some have snack bars. My library allows covered drinks away from the computers, and I occasionally turn a blind eye to cold snacks as long as students clean up after themselves;
  • highly accessible; check;
  • proximity for many; check;
  • involve regulars – those who habitually congregate there; I have a dedicated morning and lunchtime group of students. At my old school, I had about 60 students who were my regular breakfast and lunchtime students, plus after school clubs.
  • welcoming and comfortable; we do our best.
  • both new friends and old should be found there. check; many times, I’ve had students just open the door looking for friends. 

Based on that list, the school library can easily fit into the third space ideal. Maybe we’re only third space during certain times, such as before school, during lunch, and after school. I’ve had students complain when I’ve told them the library is closing and I always remind them that the huge city branch is just down the street (in Springfield, it was a few blocks; in Boston, it is a mile walking or a quick bus ride). 

School libraries can also do programming similar to public libraries, if the school day allows for it. I ran yearbook this year during lunch, and that became a gathering time for some seniors. I plan to run a book club next year, hopefully bring back a monthly poetry slam, and maybe get an author to come and talk to students. Programming like this helps the space become less of an extension of the classroom and more of a community space.

I’m thinking a lot about this, since my school is talking to an architectural firm to plan a redesign. The library will be completely re-done in about four years. I need to think about what I want it to become. Do I want an academic space, a space reminiscent of a public library, or something completely different? I know I want some better soundproofing! As much as I love my talented students, many of them have operatic voices that do not have a quiet level.

Ideally, I’d have a space for everything. I’d love to be able to have more than one class in the library during class time, non-carpeted floors so food might be more allowable during lunchtime, space for students to collaborate (maybe soundproof glass study rooms), and comfortable seating for students to sit and read.

 

 

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