Academic journal article Australasian Public Libraries and Information Services

Libraries with Lattes: The New Third Place

Academic journal article Australasian Public Libraries and Information Services

Libraries with Lattes: The New Third Place

Article excerpt

The increased use of the term third place derives from the research of urban sociologist Ray Oldenburg and his 1999 book 'A great good place'. He writes about the importance of public gathering places and why these places are essential to community and public life. Although beverages are not crucial in developing a third place, the enjoyment of conversation over a cup of coffee certainly adds' to the experience. Due to their ability to attract a large and diverse range of users and the prominent position they hold in many communities, public libraries are creating a sense of community. Their cafe's appear to be an integral part of their development as a new third place.


Public libraries are in a unique position to become the next great good places, places where people can freely gather and interact. As described by urban sociologist Ray Oldenburg, (1) a place distinct from home and work--a third place.

Public libraries are the most heavily used Australian public buildings (2) and are in the distinctive position of attracting a diverse cradle to grave user range through a variety of services. In an era when people have become increasingly dislocated from family, friends and the traditional social structures such as churches, recreational clubs and political parties, libraries have been given the opportunity to become a community focal point. Bryson, Usherwood and Proctor describe the library as being

   ... at any one time a meeting place, a learning resource and a
   comfortable and relaxing public space. The buildings that are well
   designed and managed offer an array of resources that enable people
   and groups to establish relationship, carry on conversations,
   exchange ideas, and engage the life of the mind. (3)

Kate Meyrick of the Australian Homey Institute and presenter at the 2007 Australian public library conference suggests that a key component of a third place is availability of food and drink, especially good coffee. She goes further by listing ten practical ways for a library to be recognised as a third place (4)

* create a brand

* respond to community identity

* allow for planned and chance encounters

* lead with programming

* don't dumb down the vision due to lack of funds

* aggregate and cluster

* make a street cluster a destination and cultural precinct

* encourage discovery

* always open and always on

* fantastic design and fabulous people

* if nothing else is achieved, make sure you have the best coffee in town.

If Meyrick is correct, then coffee shops will play a vital role in helping libraries to build communities and create the new third place. With her comments in mind, it is interesting to see the concept of integrating coffee shops in libraries has increased significantly over the last few years, with a major influence being the emergence of superbookstores like Borders tantalising their customers with lattes and providing what retail marketers describe as an 'experience'. Refreshments are now considered an integral part of the book browsing experience with more libraries building coffee shops or vending machines into their consumer profiles. (5)

Social capital

The concept of social capital has been debated for years, with many high profile social scientists developing theories about it. Political scientist Robert Putnam states that

   ... social capital refers to connections among individuals--social
   networks and the norms of reciprocity and trustworthiness that
   arise from them. In that sense social capital is closely related to
   what some have called civic virtue. The difference is that social
   capital calls attention to the fact that civic virtue is most
   powerful when embedded in a sense network of reciprocal social
   relations. A society of many virtuous but isolated individuals is
   not necessarily rich in social capital. … 
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