Last week, I wrote an opinion piece in which I mentioned the importance of third places. Third places — a term coined by sociologist Ray Oldenburg — are physical spaces and communities besides your home or your workplace in which you can relax, do work and socialize in. While we have the lovely Herman B. Wells Library right here on campus, I was curious to explore another third place option just down Kirkwood Ave. — the Monroe County Public Library.
The local library in my hometown was a staple part of my childhood. I would spend hours there after school with friends and on my own waiting for my parents to pick me up. But they are no longer the gathering spaces they once were and have been declining in usage over the last decade.
On summer days, I could be at the library all day laying around doing a homework packet, flipping through American Girl magazines to search for an overpriced camping outfit for my doll and racing to complete the library summer reading challenge.
Despite the fact that 65 percent of Americans live within 10 minutes of a library or community center, only three percent name libraries as their community space of choice. These publicly financed spaces should be more utilized and appreciated for their rich offerings and accessible resources.
While Wells is undoubtedly an impressive library with plenty of resources and spaces made just for IU students, I sometimes find myself stressed about going there due to the swarms of dedicated study groups. Because it is located centrally on our college campus primarily for the purpose of academic work, it feels like less of a relaxed, mixed-use space than a traditional public library can be.
Hoping to dive back into the joys of a public community library, I signed up for a free MCPL card online in less than five minutes. Despite not being a Monroe County resident, my IU student status grants me access to a card. While you can sign up online, you will eventually need to go into the library to confirm your identity and receive the physical card.
An MCPL card provides instant access to several online streaming services and databases, as well as granting you the ability to check out their media offerings, reserve study rooms and sign up for community events, such as author talks and craft clubs. Some of their most popular online resources include Libby, an app for eBook and audiobook downloads, and Hoopla, a multimedia streaming platform.
The MCPL instantly charmed me when I stepped foot through the doors last Friday afternoon. I was greeted with warmth and instant relief from the windy weather. Giggles from young children in whimsical costumes filled the room as they seemed to be preparing for a community theater show. People were sitting at tables in the center space surrounded by a spiral staircase enjoying lunch or doing work. The vast children’s section on the first floor was full of natural light.
After receiving my card at the desk in the children’s section — and a rainbow unicorn sticker to congratulate me — I headed upstairs to the second floor adult section.
I spent half an hour wandering through the tall shelves and deciding what to check out. If you don’t have the time, though, you can find whichever book you are interested in on their digital catalog, or even place your hold online and have it prepared for you to pick up.
A “Blind Date with a Book” display was set up near the entrance, with wrapped books you could check out if you are looking for a surprise, or perhaps just not to judge a book by its cover.
Equipped with desk spaces, computers, internet and a printer, the library provides access to these essential technological resources for all community members—which is especially important for those who may not personally have access to these things.
Further, the library operates on a no-fee policy, meaning that as long as you turn in your book eventually, you will not be charged late fees.
For any students looking for their next study spot or hangout space, the MCPL is a valuable community area that provides access to useful resources and a safe, comfortable area to do work and hang out. Signing up for a library card and making use of their resources is a great way to support the library and ensure it stays open and accessible for years to come.