Find Your “Third Place” at the Library

Boston Athenaeum

At a recent conference, a colleague of mine from the Midwest mentioned in passing that she likes to work off-site. This also appeals to me, and I have been wanting to build more remote work into my life. She told me that she works a few times a month in a coffee shop or in a dedicated co-working space in a nearby city. These off-site locations are her “third place” – not home, not work, but a place with a different feel, a sense of community and place to gather and exchange ideas.

Dedicated co-working spaces are a growing opportunity for remote workers who find that coffee shops or their homes don’t always fit their needs. This appears to be a more accessible option in larger cities. I haven’t found any spaces in the Boston area that offer drop-in or day passes, but the one my Midwestern colleague uses has a $20 day pass. What a great opportunity – I hope that business model moves east soon. Hotel lobbies are increasingly becoming areas where remote workers congregate. Many hotels are encouraging this activity, presumably to make the lobby area feel energized and hip. This is a great option if you work in or near a large city – I’m not sure the motel down the street offers the same vibe.

Another colleague often works at a local college library. It helps that he is an alum, but it turns out that many local colleges and universities welcome guests to use their libraries. The summer is a great time for reflection and tackling those larger projects requiring research and planning. Summer is also a time when college campuses are quieter, with few distractions. My colleague says that just walking through campus to a stately library makes him feel studious and purposeful – what better frame of mind to tackle a complex writing project? This version of remote working makes the most sense for us as local government leaders. At the college library, we aren’t in charge! We’re practically anonymous.

It turns out that local libraries are becoming the third place for many remote workers. Many large urban libraries are creating dedicated co-working spaces with access to collaboration areas, work tables, and technology. If smaller suburban libraries can’t quite make that happen, they are places that are generally quiet and free from distraction. And yet, they also provide us with a sense of community, which can make us feel less isolated and more effective in our work. The blog Workfrom – dedicated to connecting remote workers to welcoming work spaces – cites the research of Dr. Kate Stewart, who says that people feel safe in libraries, and that makes a big difference in their ability to concentrate. “Libraries don’t occur to people as cowork spaces but they naturally lend themselves to a quiet environment free of visual distractions” she says.

I have tried to work in my local library and in coffee shops, with little to show for it. In my local library, even though I can hide, I spend a lot of time talking to residents. I go to the library several times per week, and I love the opportunity to talk to patrons, so I never feel right about hiding. I also associate our library with reading. When I try to get work done, I am drawn to browsing the stacks. The local library isn’t a great place for me to get work done because I am in charge. I think about the heat. Or the lack of heat. Or any other maintenance or staffing issue that may be on-going. I’m thinking of trying one of the many lovely local libraries in surrounding towns as an alternative!

I simply cannot work by myself in a coffee shop. There are too many people and too many conversations. And, even though my “kids” are adults, my head swivels whenever a toddler yells “MOM!” I do my best remote work at the Boston Athenaeum – a small and stunningly beautiful private library across from the State House. I do pay an annual fee for this membership, but it is the perfect place to while away an hour between meetings in Boston. I try to schedule an entire day at least once per quarter (hopefully more often in the year to come). The grandeur of this space does for me what the college library does for my colleague – puts me in the studious and purposeful mindset needed for productive work.

You don’t need to be an entrepreneur or a freelancer to benefit from remote work on occasion. Have you tried working at your local library? There may be toddlers, but they have their own room! You won’t have to feel guilty about buying more coffee. The bathrooms won’t require a key with a big spoon chained to it. And best of all? The library is full of librarians.

How about you? Do you work remotely? Where? We’d love to hear your tips! Let’s practice.

2 thoughts on “Find Your “Third Place” at the Library

  1. When I was studying for my MLS, I would go to a different public library every weekend so I could observe different styles and programs. I often book small study rooms for municipal friends who are in between meetings. The wifi is great, there are clean bathrooms, plenty of free parking and beautiful surroundings! Tip: some even have their own cafes, food and drink are allowed in many libraries now too! Libraries are community centers these days and are not as quiet as they used to be in the past. They are meant to be hubs of activity and remote work routines are an excellent use of this “third space.” Libraries exist to help people achieve their goals through a variety of resources. Enabling our diverse workforces to work in a non traditional space is exactly the definition of collaboration!

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  2. Hi Kate,

    The Halifax local library is directly across the street so it would be difficult to get any work done there. As I live an hour away, I try to separate my work time and non-work time. I’ve not set anything up to work remotely from home. Instead, I’ll come to Town Hall during a weekend day to work on projects for which it would be helpful not to have interruptions or else cut down on my in-box (like I am today). It’s probably not the optimum (that would be not working during the weekend), but it has made for fewer hectic Monday mornings and also allowed me to complete work that might not get done otherwise.


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