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Public libraries evolve as the “third space”

Is the public library evolving beyond its roots in scholarly quiet study and the collection and storage of printed reading material, asks Michael Harris in his recent article “Stacked”. His premise is the gradual decrease in printed material in our libraries does not spell their doom. Instead, the library is a place of social energy, where readers, writers and new Canadians come not just to borrow a book from the shelves. Rather,

Like the cathedrals of the Middle Ages, libraries constitute part of what the urban sociologist Ray Oldenburg called “the third place,” an anchor of community life that is neither a workplace nor a home.

The librarian’s role then, to extend the vision proposed by Harris, is that of a community organizer, enabling the programs and social atmosphere of these cultural living rooms formerly known as libraries. Particularly in terms of aiding immigrants adjust to a new society and organizing children’s programmes, librarians are taking on more than their traditional role.

I’m a big champion of extending libraries into community hubs, because I cannot see their core competency vanishing from our society. Libraries should be a place every child can explore, finding knowledge beyond what they can glean from their homes and schools. And I don’t think books will vanish from that equation anytime soon.

“Stacked” by Michael Harris  |  The Walrus, April 2012

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