What is Beginner's Mind

Having 'Beginners mind' is to approach a subject enthusiastically, with openness and without preconceptions, even if you are an expert. It represents a willingness to ask questions and challenge assumptions; both essential to the scientific process.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

The library as a great good place

I'm probably a little late on the uptake here but I just discovered Ray Oldenburg's 1999 book The Great Good Place: Cafes, Coffee Shops, Bookstores, Bars, Hair Salons and Other Hangouts at the Heart of a Community. Oldenburg talks about the three places in a community: the first place is home, the second place is work, and the "third place" is the community hangout(s). Unfortunately, with the rise of the suburb, and the dominance of the automobile, these local hangouts--whether bars, barbershops, town squares, or cafes, are almost gone.

These third places are the bastions of informal public life; a place where you can meet neighbors from all walks of life, have discussions, blow off steam, escape family or work life and then return home. It is Oldenburg's hypothesis that communities without third places are impoverished. Third places are the places that create a sense of community; where
...people develop a fondness for each other and meet regularly...they will give each other things; loan tools, books and other objects, give of their time and labor on occasion and tell one another about useful sources of goods and services.
Lives without access to third places are not as happy as they could be because they are denied acess to an important source of support groups.

However, not all public meeting places are third places or "great good places". They must have the following attributes:

1. They are neutral ground. Individuals can come and go as they please and none are required to play host. But it is a place where people feel comfortable and at home.

2. Good conversation is at the core. Regulars keep the conversation flowing, but even the stranger may engage in the banter.

3. Regulars are crucial. Regulars set the whole tone, feeling and conviviality of the place. The regulars are more important than staff.
As Oldenburg says It is the regulars whose mood and manner provide the infectious and contagious style of interaction and whose acceptance of new faces is crucial. The host's welcome, though important, is not what really matters. p34
In fact, regulars are so important they may be extended privileges denied to other customers.

4. Plainness is important. That is to say that the decor of the place should discourage pretension and encourage a homelike environment.

5. The mood is playful.

6. All types of people are welcome. Although some traditional third places have excluded women, the whole point of a third place is one of inclusion, leveling and lack of pretension. The Midwestern German beer gardens of the early 1900, for example, included women and children!

So what does all this have to do with libraries???? Libraries may be the one local establishment left in suburbia where people can congregate. It is a place that has the potential to be a great good place if we allow it to be. If we

  • encourage people to linger and converse.
  • make things homey and not too pretentious
  • take care of our regulars
  • encourage a variety of people (including kids and teens)
  • keep it playful!

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