In any casual reading of Third Place/Third Space theories, it is quickly obvious that libraries (particularly the ones I have known in Auckland) play such a role in our communities. This was brought home quite strongly to me in the run up to the starting of the proof-of-concept makerspace at Auckland Central City Library. Could our makerspace be a third space in a third space?
With initial inputs from @pikiora, @lupohobbes, @barbarag19 and @hamishl were tasked with making this space happen. @greengecko29 and I joined later. The early part of the discussion was broad…what did it MEAN for a library to have a makerspace? What did MAKERSPACE even mean? This quickly led us into discussions with businesses in the space, as well as with Tangleball, Auckland’s collective makerspace.
It became apparent that there were differing energies here. On the business/social enterprise end of the spectrum, these spaces are idea+relationship generators, with the ultimate goal of financial and social good. On the anarchic end, these are places to explore ideas+making, with a deliberately non-commercial focus and a radically collective decision-making model.
What I found hardest about making this makerspace? Keeping these two (relevant) directions at bay. Commonalities first…Auckland Libraries’ purpose includes connecting people to information and ideas. This is practised (though differently) on both ends of the makerspace spectrum. As a public library, however, Auckland Libraries will not erect barriers to open access, however financially appealing it may seem. As part of a bureaucracy with responsibilities to local government systems, Auckland Libraries cannot have a free-for-all approach to decision making, however culturally appealing that may seem.
In the end, we took what we hope is the best fit of these approaches, and are working on a model that
a) provides a free access space and some basic(ish) tech as a starting point for people to think about and think through and
b) develop mechanisms to build a community around this space (users, partner orgs/peeps, staff) that will decide where it goes
Unsurprisingly, we pissed off some people. The ones that did stay were those involved in education and experimentation themselves, and were as excited as we were about our directions*.
But back to the third space/third place theme. Wikipedia (that font of knowledge and wisdom) credits Bhaba with giving two definitions of the Third Space:
1. “that space where oppressed and oppressor are both able to come together, free (maybe only momentarily) of oppression itself”: The capitalist-anarchist tension is one that has been widely popularised in recent times. Our space is neither, and is open to both ends of the spectrum, and everything in between. This does not mean a limp neutrality, but a deliberate exploration of all ideas. Will we allow people to use our equipment for commercial designs? How do we regulate fair and free use? Do we expect the space to sustain itself? We don’t know…these are decisions the whole community will need to take together, a community made up of users, partners and staff…coming together, free of oppression itself.
2. “that space where the oppressed plot their liberation: the whispering corners of the tavern or the bazaar”: While some people clearly use the library system for entertainment (reading/av media/computers), some use it for study (languages/study spaces/assignments). But what of using a library to create? With a vast distribution network and backbone already in place, could libraries explore ways to break the monopolistic business systems that limit creativity and creation? Channelling definition 1…could businesses participate in those explorations? Could this be a meeting place for those dissatisfied with the system (users, partners, staff) to find new ways of thinking and doing, to plot their liberation?
Libraries seem full of debates, these days. Books vs eBooks. Books vs Computers. Customers vs Patrons. Bigger vs Smaller, More vs Fewer. There are many arguments, online and off. Maybe makerspaces can be the third space, where conversation is the main activity, where the mood is playful…a home away from home. Maybe we’ll make something together.
And maybe this makerspace…will make some more makerspaces.