Why the public library is becoming the most popular place to hang out and work

Why the public library is becoming the most popular place to hang out and work

Trend | January 12, 2023

While many may think the library is a stuffy place filled with books and destined for obsolesce, public libraries have quietly been keeping pace with change.

From their roots as a repository of information only accessible to the powerful, to places of learning and recreation open to the community2, is the latest evolution of the library going to be the place for displaced office employees to go to work?

The Work from Home Dilemma

As more people are pushed (willingly or not) out of a permanent office, Third Places are emerging to fill the void left behind.

Originally coined by sociologist Ray Oldenburg, a Third Place refers to places people spend their time between home (First Place) and work (Second Place). Now, more than ever, these Third Places play a critical role for those employees shut out of the office.

For those living in micro condominiums downtown, working in spaces not designed to be in all day has proven intolerable, and moving to a larger space nearly impossible in red-hot housing markets. And that claustrophobic feeling is worse if you live with a partner or roommates who are all trying to create space to work where there is none. The hybrid work model also poses challenges to those employees who still yearn for hustle and bustle of the office and the human connections found there, especially those who managed to move out of the city during COVID.

There is a “…new class of workers who are now camped out in suburban neighborhoods.” Where can they go to find connections and a respite from the solitude and monotony of working from home?

More traditional Third Places, like coffee shops, are losing their appeal as the price of a Mocha Frappuccino® soars above six dollars and the smell of coffee permeating your clothes becomes nauseating as you jockey for a table and access to a plug. Coworking spaces also pose their own challenges, requiring subscriptions or costly pay-as-you-go fees that may not be covered by employers.

And that’s if they are even available nearby, often not the case for more suburban or remote locales.

Image by pch.vector on Freepik

Creating a Hub for Workers and the Community

Once a stuffy institution that forbade food and communicating above a whisper, more and more, libraries are poised to step in as a place workers can be productive and comfortable. As Angie Schmitt, writer, urban planner and intrepid post COVID worker puts it, “There’s going to be more that libraries can do to replace what the office has always provided: watercooler conversations, a place to get out of the house, and access to business services like printing. If the downtown office is truly dead, libraries could meet these needs within their communities.”1 

Simon Fraser University Residences. Image by Barrie Underhill, Upper Left Photography.

Instead of uncomfortable study carrels, libraries now have lounge seating to create cozy places to stay awhile. Benching can be found alongside meeting rooms to support productivity and collaboration for anyone who books it.

In King City, Ontario, the expansion of King City Public Library features a dedicated Maker Space for creative collaboration, quiet focus rooms, an iPad bar, a larger community room, and lounge areas. “This library is a space for everyone in the community,” says the Library’s Manager of Community Engagement & Marketing, Kelley England. She adds, 

“By functioning as both a center of innovation and vibrant community hub, the expansion and renovation of the library ensures that the services we provide remain inclusive, relevant, and reflect the growth and changing needs of the community.”

Libraries are now what the pre-pandemic office campus used to look like—a vibrant working community where people can mix socializing, health, wellness and work all in one place. Angie concludes, “Libraries have always served a critical social function. Now, there’s an opportunity for them to fill the social and functional voids left by the retreat from the office.”1

1Angie Schmitt. Feeling lonely at your kitchen table and wondering where to work remotely? Your friendly neighborhood library could be your new work-from-home haven. Business Insider. https://www.businessinsider.com/work-from-home-lonely-local-libraries-solution-coworking-great-resignation-2022-6.
2Arthur der Weduwen and Andrew Pettegree. Libraries will survive in a digital age. Here’s why. Washington Post.

HEADER IMAGE: Mike Ngo photography / wocintechchat.com

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