Third Place Libraries : Our French Project


We chose to treat the subject of third place libraries for several reasons. First of all, this kind of library presents a non insignificant social interest when we consider the concurrency of the Internet. Indeed, most of libraries, in Europe or elsewhere don’t permit necessarily to the users to create links with the place where they are and the people around them, like in coffees, restaurants, etc. A library is perhaps a place a little bit too unanimated, and too muffled, a simple place of crossing. It could be great to bring a new breath to this kind of place, in order to break the clichés who are generally associated to the libraries, clichés non justificated, like for example their too studious part.

Then, we noticed that third place libraries were a concept more and more developpated in USA and Canada (Ottawa, Quebec, Toronto…) But less in Europe, and particularly in France. We want to discover the reason of this absence. Is it because of financing? The French attachment of tradition? The fear of newness? The development of third place libraries in Europe could certainly permits a new diffusion of culture, another way to approach it, according with our time and our society. Let’s develop the third place concept and his application to the libraries.

1.   Third place concept

Ray Oldenburg coined the concept in the 80’s. He identified “Third Place” as “community places on neutral ground where people can gather and interact, in contrast to first places (home) and second places (work). They are distinctive informal gathering places, they make the citizen feel at home, they nourish relationship and diversity of human contact, they help create a sense of civic pride.” (Oldenburg, Ray The Great Good Places).

So, we can understand that third places are social spaces, dedicated to social life: meeting, exchange, interactivity. It´s a neutral place, democratic place, accessible to all, simple, comfortable

This may be seen as a cure for loneliness because it promotes social links.

2.          Third Place Libraries

Library, as we know it, already has the characteristics of a third place, because it´s a living place, where people can talk with each other, they can exchange. And it is accessible to everyone.

But, the concept has developed with the rise of internet and new technologies, which questioned the use, and attractiveness of libraries. Currently, the concept is more present in United State, in the Nordic Countries and in Netherlands.

The characteristics of “Third Places Libraries” are the reorganization of physical space (With the zoning) diversification of activities proposed, playfulness (video games…), significant efforts on the design, the décor and the architecture.

The third place libraries are inspired by marketing, and work on their power of seduction, to attract visitors.

          Interactivity is really present there: children activity, cooperation with association…

It also can be a place of relaxation, where people can eat and drink, and which propose news services which go beyond the book. Like education, training, formation, research assistance for work (for example), interactive space for children, art exposure, etc.

In a lot of countries this model isn´t widespread (like France), but the concept is beginning to happen, especially with the creation of “médiathèques” and learning centers. And some libraries propose some relaxation space, cafeteria

3.          Issues raised

We can wonder if it is not a way, a trading strategy. If libraries will have to renounce to some acquisition policies in response to a need of popularization, if it risks to lose the library, if it´s a relevant concept or a market drift, is it a good relationship with culture.

According to Michel Melot *, we have to make the difference between libraries whose primary mission the preservation of documents at the expense of readers, and libraries which privilege readers, at the expense of books. But this thinking creates a division between libraries called “popular”, and other called “elitist”. And we think we can conciliate both of them.

That’s why we are very interested by this project. We desire, in long-term, that the concept of third places libraries could become usual in Europe and that the culture and the book culture develop himself in another way and permit to bring together the interested people.

If you want more information about this concept, click here:

* Michel Melot is a French librarian and historian. He wrote, among other, Les images dans les bibliothèques, La sagesse du bibliothécaire.



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2 Responses to Third Place Libraries : Our French Project

  1. Kristina V. says:

    The central library of the Zagreb City Libraries has a dome at the third floor where they have computers for users. However, in the last year it has been used twice a week as a meeting place for homeless people of Zagreb, volunteers, library users and librarians. The volunteers teach the homeless the basics of information and computer literacy and usually afterward stay and chat with the homeless. This is part of the project A Book for a Roof ( whose aim is to socialize with the homeless and include them again into society. I believe it can be said that this project is a paving the way towards a third place library.

    Zagreb City Libraries also have in their branches a lot of activities for children. For example, the Library Tin Ujević has an interactive space for children where they can play video games (Playstation 3!), put on plays and shows, organize art exhbitions and alike. If you see this before we go on our study tour to the central library (IP LibCMASS), you could ask our guide there about your concept. 🙂

    And thank you for introducing this term to me. I think it’s a very up-to-date issue and I look forward to seeing your results. 🙂

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