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BFTP: Libraries as a third place

A weekend Blue Skunk "feature" will be a revision of an old post. I'm calling this BFTP: Blast from the Past.  Original post February 16, 2009. This post evolved into a Head for the Edge column you can find here.

The third place is a term used in the concept of community building to refer to social surroundings separate from the two usual social environments of home and the workplace. -Wikipedia


Coined by sociologist Ray Oldenburg in his book A Great Good Place, the term "third place" has come to describe an area for informal social gathering outside of home (first place) and work (second place). Oldenberg suggests such environments are necessary for a healthy society.

A lecture by Constance Steinkuehler introduced me to this term. Steinkuehler's assertion was that online game environments like those in World of Warcraft become third places for the users*. Since I am not a gamer, I more or less forgot the term.

Until I started doing some reading and thinking about library design in the secondary schools. Might, just might, the school library serve as a "third place" for students and staff, especially in locations where other "third places" such as teen-oriented libraries, coffee shops or YMCAs do not exist?

This idea has been explored by public and academic librarians.** Several of the criteria of a third place are evident in how librarians are transforming their libraries into "learning commons***."

What are some of the characteristics of the third place? Oldenburg writes:

"The character of a third place is determined most of all by its regular clientele and is marked by a playful mood, which contrasts with people's more serious involvement in other spheres. Though a radically different kind of setting for a home, the third place is remarkably similar to a good home in the psychological comfort and support that it extends…They are the heart of a community's social vitality, the grassroots of democracy, but sadly, they constitute a diminishing aspect of the American social landscape."

Chiarella describes her attempt to create a third place atmosphere in her public library:

We are working to encourage a teen presence at the library in a number of ways. We have a “Teen Zone” section of Youth Services dedicated to teen (grades 7 through 12) fiction, a non-fiction browsing section, manga, graphic novels, music CDs, magazines, and teen-oriented DVDs. We are planning to expand our regular book displays to periodic “issue” displays featuring books and take-home literature on teen pregnancy, teen drinking, drugs, eating disorders, etc. We have tables/chairs and soft rocker-type chairs in the Teen Zone where teens can hang out with friends. Computers are close by and are available to all students under 17.

Yes, yes, I also understand that school libraries have a serious academic mission. And that one runs the risk of trivializing the school library program if efforts to create a social environment overshadow its educational role.

Is there a happy medium? Might the school library be the third place outside of regular school hours? Might some sections of the library be third place "zones"?

A comment by a student many years ago (and to which I often refer) has stuck by me - that the school library was his "home away from home." Schools do have the societal charge of helping teach social skills to students. Might actively working to make school libraries the students' third place do this?


* Steinkuehler, C. & Williams, D. (2006). Where everybody knows your (screen) name: Online games as “third places.” Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication, 11(4), article 1.

** From the NSLS website: (These do not seem to be available any longer online.)

  • Third Place is Our Place by Anna Yackle, NSLS
  • The Public Library: A Third Place for Teens by Joanne Chiarella, Fremont Public Library District
  • Creating a Third Place from a Diverse Academic Community by Betsy Larson, University Center of Lake County

*** Loertscher, The New Learning Commons Where Learners Win! Reinventing School Libraries and Computer Labs. (Now in second edition)


Curating a list of organizations dedicated to creativity in education


Blue Skunkers, I need help! I'm working on a list of communities, organizations, and competitions devoted to developing creativity and innovation in our students. And as a believer in the wisdom of the crowd, I'm soliciting your recommendations for this list, along with any comments about experiences you may have had with these.. TIA!


You are not alone. The promulgation of creativity is important enough that many are doing something about it. These established organizations and efforts reduce the isolation teachers too often feel when working on creative activities with students:

  1. Center for Creative Learning <> is a consulting organization with a strong research base. Led by Dr. Don Treffinger, the center primarily offers paid services, but does have a newsletter, Creative Learning Today, and many other free resources.

  2. Consortium for Entrepreneurship Education <> business-focused, the consortium primarily supports business educators, sponsoring an annual National Entrepreneurship Week and national conference.

  3. Destination Imagination <> is a vernerable non-profit organization that focuses on global projects, the most popular being the “Our Challenge” competition.

  4. Google Science Fair <> is an annual online competition that asks students to identify what they love, what they are good at, and how they want to change the world.

  5. Spark!Lab Invent It Challenge <>, co-sponsored by the Smithsonian and ePals, alows both individuals and groups to compete in four age categories in coming up with a solution to a real world problem.

  6. Odyssey of the Mind <> among the largest and oldest programs in which international teams solve problems in a wide number of categories for students ranging from kindergarten to college.

  7. Makerspace <> is new site that provides a directory of community makerspaces as well as a blog dealing with these places.


 OK, Skunkers. What's on your list?

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25 quotes from Scott Adams' newest book

If I were able to keep reading only one blog, it would be The Scott Adams Blog. While best known, of course, as the creator of the Dilbert comic stip, Mr. Adam's books and blog demonstrate that he is the most accessible, innovative thinker going. He's a button-pusher, he's apolitical, he's areligious, and he makes common sense and logic an art form. 

So I was delighted when his book, How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big: Kind of the Story of My Life came out last month. It moved right to the top of my reading list despite the fact that I just don't read success guides. If you need one though, you could do a lot worse than Adams' well considered, simple and practical strategies and advice.

A few lines that caught my eye...
  1. distorts truth like a hippo in a thong.
  2. Simplicity transforms ordinary into amazing.
  3. Most people think they have perfectly good bullshit detectors. But if that were the case, trial juries would always be unanimous, and we’d all have the same religious beliefs.
  4. Sometimes the only real difference between crazy people and artists is that artists write down what they imagine seeing.
  5. Failure always brings something valuable with it. I don’t let it leave until I extract that value.
  6. The systems-driven people have found a way to look at the familiar in new and more useful ways. ... To put it bluntly, goals are for losers.
  7. ... a goal is a specific objective that you either achieve or don’t sometime in the future. A system is something you do on a regular basis that increases your odds of happiness in the long run. If you do something every day, it’s a system. If you’re waiting to achieve it someday in the future, it’s a goal.
  8. If you want success, figure out the price, then pay it. It sounds trivial and obvious, but if you unpack the idea it has extraordinary power.
  9. Success always has a price, but the reality is that the price is negotiable. If you pick the right system, the price will be a lot nearer what you’re willing to pay.
  10. Often all one needs is some form of permission to initiate a change, and it doesn’t always matter what form the permission is in, or if it even makes sense.
  11. And then something interesting happened. It’s a phenomenon that people in creative jobs experience often, but it might be unfamiliar to the rest of you. Suddenly, out of nowhere, two totally unrelated thoughts— separated by topic, time, and distance— came together in my head.
  12. The primary purpose of schools is to prepare kids for success in adulthood. That’s why it seems odd to me that schools don’t have required courses on the systems and practices of successful people.
  13. When it comes to skills, quantity often beats quality.
  14. ... it helps to see the world as math and not magic.
  15. I wouldn’t expect you to become a master of any, but mastery isn’t necessary. Luck has a good chance of finding you if you become merely good in most of these areas. ... Public speaking, Psychology, Business writing, Accounting, Design (the basics), Conversation, Overcoming shyness, Second language, Golf, Proper grammar, Persuasion, Technology (hobby level), [and] Proper voice technique
  16. Today when I see a stage and a thousand people waiting to hear me speak, a little recording goes off in my head that says today is a good day. I’m the happiest person in the room. The audience only gets to listen, but I get to speak, to feel, to be fully alive. I will absorb their energy and turn it into something good. And when I’m done, there’s a 100 percent chance that people will say good things about me.
  17. In today’s world we’re all designers, whether we like it or not. You might be designing PowerPoint presentations or a Web site for your start-up or flyers for your kid’s school event. You’re also furnishing your home, buying clothes you hope look nice to others, and so on. Design used to be the exclusive domain of artists and other experts. Now we’re all expected to have a working understanding of design.
  18. The reality is that everyone is a basket case on the inside. Some people just hide it better.
  19. It’s surprising how uncommon common sense is.
  20. If you can deliver an image of decisiveness, no matter how disingenuous, others will see it as leadership.
  21. .. the important patterns for success that I’ve noticed over the years. ...  Lack of fear of embarrassment, Education (the right kind), Exercise
  22. A lack of fear of embarrassment is what allows one to be proactive. It’s what makes a person take on challenges that others write off as too risky.
  23. I believe exercise makes people smarter, psychologically braver, more creative, more energetic, and more influential.
  24. People need permission to be funny in social or business settings because there’s always a risk that comes with humor. You will do people a big favor when you remove some of that risk by going first.
  25. Humor also makes you more creative, at least in the short run. I think it has something to do with the fact that humor is a violation of straight-line thinking. Humor temporarily shuts down the commonsense program in your moist robot brain and boots the random idea generator. At least it feels that way to me, figuratively speaking. Perhaps all that is happening is that humor makes one feel energized and relaxed at the same time and that is bound to help creativity.