Sociologist Ray Oldenburg coined the term “third place” three decades ago, to describe the place people go that is neither home nor work. Many people think of their third place as their local cafe or bar. Others think of their gym or barber shop or church. Many think of libraries. More than a place to get books, libraries are one of the few public, indoor spaces that remain where anyone can come in and stay as long as they like without being expected to buy anything.
The way libraries serve their communities may have changed since COVID-19 struck, but that they still do serve, in ways nearly too numerous to count, is unquestionable. In this flash ebook, we’ve compiled some of Next City’s reporting on the myriad roles that libraries play in their communities.
Some stories reflect the ways in which these institutions have rapidly pivoted in the face of a pandemic to help residents access library services even while branches are physically closed. Other stories may seem a bit dated now (Musical instruments for rent at a library? In the months leading up to a global pandemic?), but serve as inspiration for what these civic institutions can ultimately be. Yet other stories are more timeless, showing how, again, libraries fill the gap as social service hubs — a vital role that can’t be replaced by a coworking space or corporate bookstore chain. We hope these stories inform, educate and inspire.