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What is a location that is neither home nor work (or school) but instead a spot where you can feel relaxed and welcomed just as you are?

CENTRAL OREGONIAN - April WitteveenWhen I was in library school earning my master's degree. I was sure I wanted to go into museums, archives or special collections. I thought days spent in quiet research and exhibit design sounded like an ideal way to start my career. Then, I took my first class on the core values of public librarianship.

A giant lightbulb went off over my head as I learned about the form and function of America's public libraries, while recalling memories of using the libraries in my hometown and the city where I attended college. What did I enjoy most about those visits? There was something in the air of the buildings that clicked with the empowerment I felt as I located the information and stories I wanted, all while feeling surrounded by an environment of community.

I learned that libraries fill the role of "third place;" a location that is neither home nor work (or school) but instead a spot where one can feel relaxed and welcomed just as they are. If the theme song to "Cheers" happened to run through your head right now, you have the idea. Third places create community by offering public space to exchange ideas, build relationships and just plain have fun. As I sit in my office, I see examples of these interactions every day: neighbors stopping for a chat as they peruse new books, library staff engaged in conversation with our patrons, youth and teens enjoying a fun program in the summer, our regular newspaper readers coming in to catch up on happenings in a comfy chair.

A recent CBS news story titled "Welcome to the Library of the 21st Century" captures the evolution of public libraries; while circulation of physical materials is on a decrease, in-person visits to libraries are on the rise. This is notable in the "age of the Internet," and battles against the assumption that our institutions are on the brink of collapse due to Google and Amazon.

"It's really easy to think about the future as exclusively technological," says Miguel Figueroa, former director of the Center for the Future of Libraries. "And I think a lot of libraries are keeping pace with that. At the same time, I think we're starting to see that there's a really great future for these institutions as place — the value of having an open, public place in your city, in your neighborhood."

As we move into the hottest days of summer, the library also serves an important role as a cooling shelter. Everyone is welcome to visit, get hydrated and find respite from the heat. New visitors discover our excellent collections (post-pandemic our circulation numbers continue to rise), spaces to relax and access to technology through public internet stations and print/scan/copy services. As always, a friendly face behind the front counter is ready to assist with whatever the day may bring.

A regular visitor to the Seattle Public Library shares his feelings in the CBS story: "I really think that far from any idea that some people might have that the library is somehow obsolescent, you know, or irrelevant, it is actually the opposite. I think that our society as a whole needs more institutions and public areas that are like the library. It's much more a model for how we should treat other people than just an artifact of the past."

We at the Crook County Library are happy to provide a great third place for our community.

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