My favourite ‘third space’: The London Library
- Posted by Liz Gooster
- 0 Comments
- productivity, The London Library, third place, third space
It’s been quite a challenge to articulate what it is I like so much about working in The London Library. When I worked in an office, I often delighted in the ease of turning to a colleague for an ad hoc thrashing through of a task one of us was engaged in. And I love the bustle and clatter of a coffee shop, the air thriving with chatter and redolent with caffeine. I savour working from home, with no commute and everything I might need within easy reach. Yet in the Library, I cherish the silence. I relish the fusty smell of old books, the narrow channels of the book stacks packed with knowledge, the rickety desks in dark recesses, emerging as though newly discovered as I comb the maze of floors.
The communal working areas – my favoured spot is in the Lightwell Reading Room – are often crowded, yet they are richly quiet. With the use of mobile phones ruled out, people read and write and concentrate instead. This is not an oasis of laziness but rather a hive of learning, thinking and reflection. Surrounded by strangers, cushioned by the luxury of solitary diligence, I am lulled by the click of laptop keyboards and the rustle of turning pages. Lulled not into sleep or torpor but into unhurried yet focused thought. This is a highly productive working space for me.
Perhaps part of the magic lies in knowing I won’t be interrupted. No phone call can reach me here and while there is wifi, my engagement with email and the internet is somehow more measured and deliberate. Perhaps I am buoyed along by subconscious memories of long student days sequestered in libraries sponging up knowledge, or even further back, the long Saturday mornings and summer holiday hours I spent as a bookworm of a child browsing the local library shelves for yet more novels to devour. Perhaps it’s the power of contrast with the other places I frequent. Whatever it is, I feel calm and unhurried here. Even diary scheduling, normally the bane of my life, seems to go more smoothly. Time feels more accommodating than it often does elsewhere.
There are many definitions of the concept of a ‘third place’ in the academic theories of social and cultural science and also, increasingly, in common parlance. The notion has been picked up by providers of flexible workspaces for independent workers or staff working outside their main corporate offices. So in relatively recent years we’ve seen the rise of multinational suppliers of business centres, such as Regus; trendy, techy co-working spaces and hubs; and contemporary members’ clubs where you can work, network, socialise and relax. As well as charge your iPhone and drink coffee, of course. And it’s not just work: the exclusive London gym company, Third Space, for instance, also plays on this idea.
The simplest explanation of a third place (or space) is that of an alternative to the first place (the home) and the second place (work). Urban sociologist Ray Oldenburg described the third place as an ‘anchor’ of community life that facilitates and fosters broader, more creative interaction. It is often associated with characteristics such as being a neutral ground, one that is frequented by regulars, involves food and drink, generates playful conversations and interactions and has the feel of a ‘home away from home’.
As an independent worker, or, as author Marianne Cantwell endearingly describes it, a free range human, the boundaries of these terms feel blurred to me. I don’t have an office. I work from my kitchen table at home a lot. I have a favoured coffee shop (or two) in my home town of Cambridge. I meet clients at their offices and have networking meetings all over the place. I go to events and courses at a range of venues. The variety and flexibility is great, but there is something about The London Library that brings a solidity, indeed, an anchor, in Oldenberg’s terms. Occupying a series of buildings on St James’s Square, the environment itself is historic and beautiful and I find being surrounded by shelf after shelf of books somehow grounding and reassuring. And then there is that silence. So generative, so nourishing, it hardly ever fails to produce in me a state of focused alertness. Whether it’s an authentic ‘third space’ or not, I get so much done here. In fact, it could even be said that ‘this blog post was brought to you courtesy of The London Library’!
If you liked this, you might also like:
- The Productivity Paradox, on how taking a pause can help you get more done
- The Power Hour, my post on how to get more done by using short bursts of super productivity
- My review of Brian Tracy’s Eat That Frog! 21 ways to stop procrastinating and get more done in less time
- My review of Dave Allen’s Getting Things Done: The art of stress-free productivity
I like to describe myself as happily ‘At Large’ in an independent portfolio career, balancing coaching, leadership development, coach training and being a mum to my young daughter. Positive psychology is a big influence on my work and I’ve recently gained an MSc in Applied Positive Psychology & Coaching Psychology from the University of East London. My interests include reading, writing, travel, yoga, Zumba, coffee and wine! Connect with me on LinkedIn and sign up for my newsletter, Positive Intentions.