What is a fourth place? Ray Oldenburg’s idea of the Great Good Place tells us that home is the "first place" in our lives, while work is our "second place". Those are the two places where we spend the majority of our time and they are places where we should feel comfortable. Places like Starbucks want to be our "third place"...that place where we hang out. We envision the "fourth place" as being a place of learning. Yes, libraries are a place where people may just hang out and they are a place of learning, but our vision of fourth place emcompasses what libraries could become (and some already are).
The idea of "fourth place" came up in a T is for Training podcast last August, when someone who called himself Walter Salem called into the program. As Paul wrote in his blog:
Salem was exactly what we were seeking: a person who is not involved in training but who expressed a passion for what libraries are, what they have been, and what they are becoming. While he was commenting via the audio portion of the program, a few of us noted via the typed chat that he seemed to be describing Oldenburg’s third place, and we actually suggested that to him. At that point, he corrected us by emphasizing that what he really loved was the sense of a place where he was surrounded by learning and the potential for learning, and that’s where we started translating his thoughts into something concrete for libraries and any other onsite or online community willing to use all the tech and human tools available to us.Walter Salem wanted a space where all types of learning activities could occur, including activities that are noisy or messy. He wanted the space to be outfitted with lots of stuff that people could use. And he saw it as a place for collaborative learning. Our minds raced and we understood how libraries could be this place for learning in ways that many libraries do not consider.
Consider gardening. Where do you users go to learn how to garden? Do they come into the library with plants and ask the reference staff to diagnose problems? Do they bring in compost and ask staff to tell them why the process is going slowly? No...someone who is wants to learn about gardening talks to another gardener. Yes, the person may consult some books, but the real learning comes from interacting with people who have knowledge, the plants, and the earth. The Northern Onondaga Public Library (NOPL) has created a LibraryFarm where people can check out a garden plot and learn. The library supports the garden by loaning tools, providing space for discussions, etc. It facilitates the learning activity, but is not directly involved in it In other words, people are learning to garden from the library but from other LibraryFarmers.
There are other examples in and out of libraries that are similar. There are libraries that loan cake pans and other items for hands-on learning. A great example came up after our session. One person mentioned that he had worked at a library many years ago where one of the staff members ran a bicycle chop shop on the weekends, out of view of the administration!
My job yesterday was to get the audience thinking creatively about fourth place activities (especially those that are messy), as well as how to add space for it (e.g., shipping containers). My slides are below for you to look through. Feel free to ask me any questions you might have. Paul's slides are also below. Maurice's are not yet online. One of the things we emphasized was to allow the users to define how the space was going to be used for specific activities and to allow them to run with their ideas. In others words, get out of their way! Be a facilitator of learning, but not necessarily the trainer (or even the person who defines exactly what learning will occur). Help the get the resources they need, but don't then feel that you need to strictly control those resources.
I hope you will see the possibility of creating a fourth place for your community. If you're unsure of the possibilities, but are intrigued by the idea, consider sharing these slides with your colleagues and then engaging in a real brainstorming session where you don't automatically censor the ideas.
Finally, thanks to Information Today for allowing us to do this presentation. A special thanks to JD Thomas and Bill Spence, who oversee the IT stuff for the conference. You gave us advice and stood by ready to help. And when the technology didn't work, you stepped back and allowed us to improvise and didn't worry about what we'd do!
Addendum (3/27/2011): Julie Strange emailed me about folding shipping containers. This is seen as a way of using less space for shipping empty shipping containers. I don't know how the idea of them folding could be used "out in the wild" (e.g., when using a container as a building), but I'm sure somebody will think of something!
Paul, Maurice and I have been contacted since Wednesday by people who have follow-up ideas or who are seeking additional information. We are thrilled to hear from all of you! Let's keep the ideas flowing and the information moving!