Teen Third Space


As I’m working with teenagers, I continue to reflect on the public libraries role when working with this population. In the Youth Librarian professional circles there is much talk of teen’s need for a “Third Space”, introduced by Ray Oldenburg’s The Great Good Place (as cited in Tyler, 2008). The idea is that teenagers (and adults) need a space separate from work/school and home in order to relax, grow, socialize and build community according to their own interests and agendas rather than than dictated by home or school responsibilities. Karen Jensen (2019) summarizes it thusly:

“They (teens) want a space without a lot of rules and oversight, in large part because they’ve just come from an 8-hour school day in which they’ve been very regimented and many of them will be going home to more rules and demands on their time. There is a short period of time in a teen’s day where they can have a moment to relax, catch their breath, and have more control over their time and it is in these moments that teens walk into our public libraries.”

When viewed from that perspective, I do believe our Dell Connected Youth Center at our public library branch serves that function.  There is a regular cohort of tween and teen students, from different schools in the area, who come together to play video games, eat snacks, and socialize in their own way. For them, any programming is secondary and the book resources are practically immaterial. The video games are definitely the biggest draw, followed by social interaction and possibly snacks. It provides a safe place for them to go, in a sometimes difficult neighborhood, while parents are often away at work.

And yet…..I keep finding myself asking “What about the books?”  “How can we help these kids learn and grow?”  “How can we motivate them to try new experiences, new books, to create?”  And how can we do this in a way that doesn’t feel too “school-like”, where teens still have a sense of autonomy, independence, freedom, and choice.

In this way, setting up a teen space is much like creating a Montessori classroom that “entices” the student to explore with new materials.  However, like in a Montessori classroom, I suspect strict guidelines and limits are also required to “force” students out of their comfort zones.  In a Montessori classroom we would do this by limiting various activities to only one or two available at any time, but with many options for different activities available, and an insistence that time and materials be used constructively in a way that doesn’t disturb others.

This is what I would like to see happen more at our Youth Center.  But I wonder if it’s not antithetical to the third space movement? This will require more reflection on my part.


Jensen, K. (2019). Teen services 101: What do teens want from public libraries? Retrieved from http://www.teenlibrariantoolbox.com/2019/05/teen-services-101-what-do-teens-want-from-public-libraries/

Tyler, K. (2008). Presidents program: The teen third space. Retrieved from http://yalsa.ala.org/blog/2008/07/05/presidents-program-the-teen-third-space/


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