I posted this today to a community mailing list, in an exchange sparked by the observation that there are no bookstores within walking distance of our large, densely populated urban neighborhood. We don’t warrant favor from the powers-that-be at Barnes & Noble, and independent bookstores can’t thrive. Someone talked about the need for “third places” in our community, and proposed the library. I responded:
Libraries… now there’s a subject I’m passionate about. Libraries are not what they could be. They are designed like municipal spaces, where business is conducted as quickly as possible, not like places to enjoy. Many of our libraries are hideous on the inside. I support the Queens library foundation not because I have a hope that things will improve, but as a stopgap against the total disappearance of the library.
The trouble with the library as a third place (great concept, btw) is that libraries are meant to be quiet. Obviously that isn’t true of the Sunnyside branch, but the space itself does nothing to inspire reverence for literature and the written word. Who can fall in love in a place like that?
Imagine if the library were designed like B&N–large, inviting tables featuring curated selections, walls of new hardcovers, seating throughout, warm lighting, a cheerful kids section, and a cafe that’s attached but somewhat separate so that conversations won’t disturb browsers.
Of course, for this to happen would require a much greater commitment to civic life than can be found in society today. (Which could lead into a discussion about movie theaters, but I ought to see to my baby.)