They say you can’t judge a book by its cover. You also can’t judge a library’s value to the community by simply the books on its shelf. Last week’s Friends of the Library’s Murder Mystery Dinner is a perfect example of community value added far beyond library books.
The dinner was the culmination of this year’s community read, A Little Mystery. The Friends’ group sponsors the read every year with a different book and theme. This year’s theme led naturally to the murder mystery dinner. More than 100 of us gathered at the Raynham Park Club to enjoy dinner and a little murder a la carte. For those of us caught up in the moment of this shared experience, it felt like a “village” event – that wonderful feeling of community and sharing that comes along all too infrequently. It was a moment that gave me cause to reflect on how the public library contributes to the feeling of community.
Sociologist Ray Oldenburg has coined the term “third places” to identify those places in the community outside of home (“first place”) and work (“second place”). Third places refer to locations where people spend time, enjoy themselves, exchange ideas and build relationships. They are the informal spaces that are often mainstays in a neighborhood, places where both random and intentional in-person relationships are made. It might be a barbershop, church, local pub, golf course or gym. It might be the public library.
Being a “third place” gives us the opportunity to know our users, and for them to get to know others in the community. We’d all like to think we live in a place where people care about others. Life is a lot easier when you are part of a network of friends and family, a community, a neighborhood. If you have a library card, then you are part of the community in a unique way – you are part of a community of library users. We care about our users and offer them opportunities to connect with each other – whether it’s through a summer reading program, a storytime, a book club, a program on a shared interest, a community read, or a murder mystery dinner. We care about our users becoming active learners and intellectually curious, independent adults, and we offer materials and services to support that end.
The “third place” public library contributes to the community in a way that enriches the common good, building and strengthening the bonds that tie us together – creating a place we all want to live in.