Bücherei Zentrale Schleswig-holstein

Libraries on the Move

May 3, 2021

How can a pleasant place that is meant to encourage people to stay also be mobile? Clearly, this fusion of opposites requires some sort of balance. Setting out on an investigation, we discovered surprising approaches that utilize the minimum to achieve maximum social engagement.

The Bücherei Zentrale Sleeswich Holstein is running a development program that is funded by the Hoch Drei organization in Germany. The goal of the program, which stretches from 2020 to 2021, is to discover in what way mobile libraries can transform into mobile third places for all. Whereas the original third place definition by Ray Oldenburg is all but mobile, this calls for a more experimental approach.

How do you create a third-place impact with a mobile library that drives through rural areas? It is clear that any society, any community really, needs third places for more than just a couple of hours a week. So, can a mobile library contribute? And if so, to what extent? What is flexible, what is fixed? This mobile mystery calls for some research.

A two-way street

We are convinced that – if a mobile library can contribute to the social infrastructure of society – it takes two to tango: the mobile library on the one hand, and a docking station on the other. Think of it as the Dutch saga of Sinterklaas (St. Nicholas), the generous saint who comes by once a year by steamboat from faraway Spain to the Netherlands. He brings treats and a little present for every well-behaved child, how nice. Everyone is looking forward to his arrival! Yet the gift can only reach the child if the steamboat can dock in a harbor. The port, therefore, is essential for celebrating the feast. Whereas the mobile library in this analogy is St. Nicholas, the port represents the local docking station. Therefore, meeting the minimum conditions for this ‘port’ will be the key to the success of our mobile library as a third place.

We long-listed some 15 very tiny examples of third places ‘avant la lettre’ in the rural 

Vera Schneider Vera Schneider Interior architect at includi

To inspire the process and add to our knowledge base on third places in rural areas, we went online. We long-listed some 15 very tiny examples of third places ‘avant la lettre’ in the rural areas of western Europe. Here, we learned more about ‘when-all-is-gone—then-this-is-the-absolute-minimum-you-should-still-have-in-your-community’ aspects of a third place. We embarked on a mid-COVID set of zoom interviews with five of these initiatives. We spoke to users, staff and management.

Size doesn’t matter

These tiny but mighty initiatives are captured ina beautiful mini-documentary showing the huge impact and importance of third places in rural areas, no matter how insignificant they might seem. If you’re ever doubting the necessity of small social places, watch how something so small can get so social.

Project credits:

The inspirational mini documentary “Third Places in Rural Areas” is a creation of includi.
Interviews: Mark Kamps, Vera Schneider, Christa Rochaix, Marco Heyda
Research: Mark Kamps
Presentation: Aat Vos
Production: Marco Heyda, Sarah Stötzner
Video: Marco Heyda

A special word of thanks goes to our conversation partners and friends at La Fabrique de Revermont, For All Healthy Living Centre, The Community Shop Grindleford, Café Edelstein and Familienzentrum Radebeul.