Third Places and Four Spaces: The Evolution of Public Libraries

The hyperlinked environment is one in which space is made for connections to be made. What does this have to do with libraries? To begin, libraries have traditionally been repositories of knowledge and information. Often, public perception is that librarians know everything! They are the arbiters of everything. 

What the internet has shown us is that this is an outdated model. Knowledge is for the people. To do with what they will. The arbiters and gatekeepers are becoming obsolete. If libraries keep operating under this old model, they, too, will become obsolete.

Technology has become an important tool for equalizing access to information and allowing a platform for all people to share information. Because of this, libraries are becoming increasingly technology-driven (Stephens, 2017). While it is not necessary to adopt every new technology available, it is important to be aware of emergent technologies and research how they are being used in various libraries. It’s important to become curious about them and how they might benefit your library and your users.

The Los Angeles Public Library has embraced technology with their Octavia Lab makerspace, which opened in June of 2019 (Roe, 2019). They have a 3D printer, various cutting machines (laser, silhouette, vinyl), a green screen, sewing machines, equipment to digitize various media (slides and negatives, floppy discs, VHS tapes, etc.), music recording equipment, and a virtual reality gaming console.

The Sacramento Public Library Makerspace, where I work, has been open since 2017 (Sacramento Public Library, 2019). And this is where I’m going to get real: it is not without its challenges. Over the past three years, we have seen an increase in usage of the space. However, it is difficult to have librarian-run programs (due to learning curves) and to staff the space (due to insufficient staffing). A tangential problem is that programs can become stale, because staff do not have the time to invest in expanding them. I am that staff person and intimately experience these problems. That being said, I do think they’re valuable, but perhaps makerspaces and libraries, in general, need to be rethought.

I like the idea of expanding the idea of makerspaces to collaborative community places or project-based spaces–or both! A place where you can meet and discuss and make. Where ideas can manifest. A place enlivened by community members, who are themselves valuable resources.

This is what has come to be known as the third place, a place for community and social gatherings outside of the home (first place) and work (second place). One such library that has embraced this new paradigm is The Bubbler in Madison, Wisconsin (Madison Public Library, 2019). The Bubbler has monthly artist residencies, where an artist is available weekly for two hours to talk with the community and engage in an artistic activity. The Bubbler has a Media Lab where patrons can explore digital media production. The Bubbler not only holds these amazing programs in their library, they have outreach at schools and for at-risk teens in the community. Their tagline is “Learn, Share, Create”. Although this sounds a lot like the makerspace concept, it also seems to work in partnership with the community more than a usual makerspace.

Another library experimenting with this third place concept is Dokk1 in Denmark (Dokk1, n.d.). Dokk1 is “…less focused on books and more focused on human needs, providing space for performances, meetings, children’s activities, art installations, and general public gatherings” (American Libraries Magazine, 2016, p. 4). In my opinion, the books are still important, but only in service of human needs. Additionally, this kind of concept needs to highlight the importance of librarians’ roles in this third place, otherwise, it is just an expensive cafe. Because of this, Dokk1 hires staff, not based on an LIS degree, but based on competencies (Stephens, 2016). Staff are expected to rove around the four spaces (learning, inspiration, performative, and meeting) and engage the patrons and facilitate learning. It is a dynamic environment that encourages an exchange of ideas and dialog. This sounds like a delightful library to work in and a delightful library to visit! 


American Libraries Magazine. (2016). Moving beyond the “Third Place”. Retrieved from

Dokk1. (n.d.). Home. Retrieved from

Madison Public Library. (2019). Bubbler. Retrieved from

Roe, M. (2019). LA Public Library’s New Maker Space/Studio Lets You 3D Print, Shoot On A Green Screen, And Way More. Retrieved from

Sacramento Public Library. (2020). Makerspaces. Retrieved from

Stephens, M. (2016). Dream. Explore. Experiment. Retrieved from

Stephens, M. (2017). Adopt or adapt? Retrieved from

10 Thoughts.

  1. Hi Jenell, great post about the changes in library spaces from traditional models to being a community space of interaction, learning, community outreach, and creating. It’s unfortunate the Sacramento library seems so underfunded being that it’s our capital and serves a large population. I’m glad you feel optimistic and I hope the library can implement more maker spaces and learning programs!

    • Hi @aamarshall19! The Sacramento Public Library is the fourth largest library in California and well-funded. However, I think it’s a challenge for most libraries. L.A. Public Library has limited Makerspace hours, too, and they’re bigger than we are. To be honest, I don’t know how The Bubbler and Dokk1 do it! It would be interesting to know how they make it work!

        • You’re probably right, Lain. Denmark definitely has higher taxes. But what about the Bubbler here in the U.S.? I’m so curious! How do other library systems make these types of programs work?

      • Jenell — I really appreciate your first person perspective about what it can be like to run a makerspace, and I’m sorry there’s not as much support for upkeep and continuing training as it sounds like you need! Getting more volunteer community participation to help with the makerspace, as The Bubbler is doing, sounds like it could help. I think we should also leave room for the possibility that it might not be as easy for The Bubbler and Dokk1 as they make it look! A lot of times, just looking from an outsider perspective, we see the beautiful photos and poetic descriptions, and aren’t privy to the all the difficulties and hurdles that are involved.


        • @mjulrich, thank you. It’s true. We often don’t see the whole picture. I guess that’s what I want to talk about. I don’t just want to hear about success stories, I want to see the processes, how these things come about and continue to evolve. I wish more people talked about that kind of stuff.

  2. The more I learn about Dokk1, the more I want to visit. It seems like a great example of the elements that libraries are embracing now. I like that this library focuses on encouraging collaboration and community. I hope that I will get to go some day.

  3. Thank you so much for sharing all of this! I have become extremely interested in makerspaces in public libraries as this class has gone on and really did wonder about the practicality of it, especially if a library doesn’t have designated staff for the space.

    The idea of having this third space is amazing! I love how the Bubbler works! Having art instillation and artist come to engage with the community is really an exciting idea. I also really like the idea of the library doing community outreach with schools and at risk students.

    When reading about all of this all I could think about is how great libraries offering classes and group projects would be. Having a chance to gather people together that have similar interests or even just want something fun to do is awesome. Imagine, you are bored one night and want to go out to do something, you look at the events at your local library and their is a paint night, or an open mic night for students to share poetry, or even a book club gathering, it brings people in the doors. I love these ideas!

    The idea of having the makerspace be a community creative space instead of a true makerspace is fantastic. It builds those community connections we strive for instead of only allowing for better access to tech, we allow for better access to tech and encourage those coming to use that tech to engage with others around them. AMAZING!

    • @desijaser I love your enthusiasm around it! I’m excited about it, too. I really didn’t know what to expect from this class, but it has given me so much to think about. I think these third places are going to be extremely important to the future of libraries. And like the Dokk1 example, there doesn’t have to be a dedicated room or Makerspace. There can be an open floor plan. As much as I don’t want to think about Google, their Googleplex open floorplan was definitely a forerunner of these third places. I think libraries can do it even better!

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