The Quintessential Third Space: The Library as An Anchor in the Community

Posted by Cindy Fesemyer on March 08, 2017 at 2:27 PM

The Columbus Public Library in Wisconsin is a small city of about 5,000 people. The library serves an additional 10,000 people from rural areas around our small city. We have deep historical roots in agriculture and manufacturing. We are quickly becoming a bedroom town for neighboring Madison, home of the State Capitol and University of Wisconsin- Madison and need to serve the needs of this more modern, innovative population, as well.


The Aspen Insitute’s Action Guide for Re-Envisioning Your Public Library is a useful tool both for looking inward with library stakeholders and outward toward the communities we serve. The Columbus Public Library used a similar tool, the ALA Libraries Transforming Communities program to assess the aspirations of our community as we created our latest strategic plan. Without the Community Conversation tool, much like the Public Dialogue tool of the Action Guide, we would never have arrived at our current strategic vision: pursuing becoming an anchor tenant in a new downtown development that will, in part, house a community center and new library with shared spaces for the whole community and multiple city departments. The library is currently heading the movement to help municipal leaders see the benefits of a new public/private development located in our flagship downtown. It will help revitalize our business community and offer options to residents for shopping and playing close to home. Without our many community conversations, we would have simply expanded the library, not realizing that the community was clamoring for so much more: a place to gather socially, to learn together, to maintain mental and physical health, to cross political, religious and cultural silos; the quintessential third space.

The Columbus Public Library is currently employing the Action Guide as a tool in the formation of a new library Program Team. Together, our team will do a number of the exercises to help us realize together the needs and wants of our community, especially as they relate to library and community programming. The Guide will help lessen the learning curve for staff new to library programming in Columbus and will help provide the whole Programming Team a shared vision and mission for our programming efforts.

Cindy Fesemyer
Columbus Public Library