Brick-and-mortar libraries are commonly cited as examples of “third places:” community building spaces outside of home and work which embody qualities of equity and access without placing demands upon those who use them. However, as libraries increasingly invest in digital services, can they continue to serve in that role through virtual programming? Amid what public health officials are currently referring to as a “loneliness epidemic,” with the highest self-reported rates of loneliness and social isolation measured since sociologists began tracking it in the 1970s, the community-building role of libraries is perhaps more essential than ever. While much has been written on libraries as third place, digital libraries and, to a lesser extent, digital third places, literature examining the possibility of digital libraries as digital third places is scant. By examining existing library efforts to address loneliness among their patrons, virtual library public health initiatives, and existing research on loneliness in the age of social media, this paper argues that digital third places can indeed serve the same community-building function as physical third places, given certain circumstances and intention of design. This paper also offers an identified list of features common to successful digital third places, as well as likely pitfalls which occur due to deficiencies in design and moderation and concludes with a list of suggestions for virtual library programming with third place in mind.
Finlay, Stephen Craig, "Digital Libraries as Digital Third Place: Virtual Programming in the Age of Loneliness" (2023). Criss Library Faculty Proceedings & Presentations. 141.