C3 Libraries

I recently attended the Computers in Libraries Conference in Washington DC and sat in on a presentation I didn’t mean to attend. Although the presentation by Moe Hosseini-ara
(Director of Service Excellence, Markham Public Library, Ontario, Canada)  focused on public libraries and C3 classification (customer centered classification), there were quite a few a-ha and yes! moments for me. Below is an edited version of Moe’s presentation, take time to look at it, don’t worry it’s an “easy read.”

Imagine, Fail, Learn, Grow

The first thing I liked was the slogan: “imagine, fail, learn, grow.” Basically it means: take a risk, try something new, although things might not turn out the way you expect, growth and new learning comes out of “failure.”

I look back at a small project to showcase our journal collection. My plan to put a selection of journals based on a particular topic (e.g., early childhood education)  in a spinner rack was a disaster. Staff complained and students walked on by… But I was glad I was in a work place that let me “fail…” not all was lost – I did get to know the collection better and there have been times when a patron has asked “What print journals do you have on bilingual education?” And, I’ve been able to say (handing over a laminated card) “Here’s a starter list…”

Library as Third Place

Something else I liked was the concept of Library as third place. Although not a new idea – it was good to think of the Library in terms of :

“a community space outside of home and work where people can go to meet, develop friendships, discuss issues, and interact with others.”

New York City being the hustle-bustle place that it is, our library has to walk that fine line of being the place some people expect it to be (quiet), and as an alternative place where groups can work and discuss freely (somewhat noisily) on a regular basis.

Space at college is at a premium, every nook and cranny serves an official and an unofficial use. We have a “Quiet Room” which has its devotees for private silent study (until recently it was technology free – no laptops) and those who want to use it as a group space (we don’t want to disturb others with our talk).  It’s also secretly used as a store room by staff. Is it possible or desirable for our library to become a third space?

We have quite a few prohibitions, here’s a shortlist:

  • no food
  • no drink (except bottled water with a screw top)
  • no computer game playing (by children)
  • no unaccompanied children (babysitters and parents must be with children at all times).

What do we have that’s third place?

  • A lobby where food, drink, and cellphone use is OK
  • A Quiet Room (and yes it’s patronized by those with children  and people in studio apartments who need a place to spread out)
  • Couches, sofas, desks, little tables, and trendy chairs

What would make the library more third place (for everyone)?

  • This might sound silly but remodeling the bathroom. We only have (gasp) one!
  • partitions that give the illusion of privacy for group work (the moveable kind)
  • more electrical outlets for laptops, smartphones
  • setting up computers in the children’s room that allow limited functionality during the hours of 9-5
  • An interactive map of the library identifying where needed items might be
  • Power walls, easy-read signage (we’ve made a start), end caps and slat walls (if you’ve seen the presentation above you’ll know what I’m talking about).

What are the Constraints?

Our stacks are bolted to the floor and our adult collection reaches up to the ceiling. After some discussion with co-workers the question arose as to “…But a third place for whom? Graduates? Children? Which socioeconomic group are you talking about?” And, then there were comments “I suppose that means letting people eat and drink, then they’ll be using the computers with sticky fingers – Oh Lord there will be spills, fried keyboards, and gum everywhere…”

C3 (customer centered classification)

I like this idea; a simpler classification system would certainly make life easier. When I first started working at Bank Street a previous librarian had used a simple form of C3 on reference books. Small yellow labels were attached to items, e.g., tales, tests, social studies. We decided to abandon this practice as it was difficult to shelve and retrieve needed items. You had to group by label and then re-organize by call number within each label – it was confusing. But having said this we have some very long call numbers which don’t sit well on spines. I’m always having to remind patrons that every number and letter is important, for example 371.90973 T942e6 which is the call number for:

 Turnbull, A. P., Turnbull, H. R., & Wehmeyer, M. L. (2010). Exceptional lives: Special education in today’s schools. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Merrill.


I’m glad I was able to experience good old-fashioned serendipity by stumbling in on Moe’s presentation (food for thought indeed). I especially like the slogan “Imagine, Fail, Learn, Grow,” as a useful mantra for keeping the conversation about change on-going.  Will we adopt C3 classification – perhaps not, will we become more third place – I hope so.

Reference librarian at Bank Street College Library.

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