Thursday, 29 September 2011

Is "Disneyfication of public spaces" the way to go?

This week in class we focused on space in libraries (hence Prof. Lankes' above quote...and yes, I will endeavour to quote him in every 511 post this semester).  This tied in very well with the conference I went to this morning, about which I will blog after this post (can you feel the suspense)!  It also fitted in well with Sean's spiffing post and I conclude that the culmination of all these space discussions means that it is very important concept to be considering in the current climate.

I am familiar with the term 'Third Space' from my discussion with Marilyn Smith, Petit Branch Manager but wasn't aware that there was such a debate attached to it.  The phrase was coined by Ray Oldenburg and refers to the third place after home and work/study/school.  Libraries have jumped on this bandwagon and defined themselves as the third place for their members.  I can fully appreciate this as someone who spent pretty much her whole undergraduate ensconced in the sixteenth century library of my college (Corpus, Oxford) - and, by the picture below, who wouldn't?

Corpus Christi College, Oxford Library
This library is the reason that I am at Library School and it wasn't for the books that I spent most of my days there but it was the community that the library engendered.  It was the hub of college life and made studying 'cool' with competitions for how long everyone could stay seated and concentrating with the first to get up the loser.  (Only upon writing that have I realised just how geeky my uni life was.)

But if the concept of libraries as a community space was prevalent in the sheltered and revered Oxford then it must work in less pressured situations.  Prof. Lankes brought up the proposed library in the Carousel Centre (which did not come to fruition) and this reminded me of Cambridge Central Library, which is situated above the main shopping centre just off the main market square.  This has been a great success for the library with footfall vastly increased and whenever you go in it is always busy.  But, I am not sure how well this would work if there was a bookstore in close proximity. It is incredibly handy to be able to pop in when you are doing your shopping and indeed you can deposit any unwilling male shopping-tag-alongs there while you shop 'til you drop.*  As you can see below, the library is above the shops:

We discussed the concept of making the library a piazza, an agora for the community and this is a great idea, especially when I consider the success of Norwich Public Library which is now part of the 'Forum' (an agora in Latin, wonderful!) that was built as part of the Millennium project in the city.  This houses the local TV and radio station, the library, the tourist information, restaurants and cafes and is in the centre of the city.  

The Norwich Forum complete with merry-go-round

My Norwich example also ties with a particularly interesting point in this whole discussion of the community space: the concept of partnerships forged by the library with other institutions in order to provide a more relevant service to the community.  We discussed this at length today at the conference when we were focusing on academic and public libraries needing to work together with IT services.  We can add to that facilities managers, who often control the library buildings instead of librarians.  Other partnerships can be with theatres, who put on plays that benefit from library/archival input with displays to support the performance.  It is through these partnerships that we can expand our knowledge of the community, our expertise, and our funds so we have to be prepared to get out of our libraries and tackle the challenges head-on in an informed and open-minded fashion.

* I can sense men getting angry at me already for that

1 comment:

  1. I love the Millennium Library in Norwich! I did some work experience there and all the staff are fantastic. It really hit me what a great library it is when I moved to Leeds and saw the somewhat underwhelming Central Library they have here. I got so used to having a great local library that I assumed all major public libraries were like that. In addition to the services you mentioned above, they also have a service desk for the local Council where people can ask questions and get help with council issues - such a great idea!

    It's a really popular place as well, apparently the busiest public library in the country. The staff told me that a lot more teenagers use the library now they have a dedicated space - they may not borrow much but they do use the library as a meeting/hang out place.

    The library holds a lot of events, and there's always something going on in the Forum space and outside too (like the carousel). It really shows how much people will engage with library services when some thought and investment is put into making it a real community space.

    After all this gushing I should probably mention that I don't work at the Millennium Library... but I would like to!