The 3rd Ward – A Library Space People are Paying for

No, the 3rd Ward in Brooklyn, NY is NOT a library. Your title is misleading, you say? Hear me out.  The 3rd Ward is a space for creative people to go and learn, work, and be inspired… sound familiar? Taken straight from their About Me page (emphasis mine):

3rd Ward is a multi-disciplinary workspace and education center. Here, you can take advantage of our Wood Shop, Metal Shop, Photo Studios, Jewelry Studios and Coworking Space, as well as learn new skills in one of our many classes.

Whether you’re a beginner looking for a creative outlet, or a seasoned professional in search of a full-time workspace solution,
3rd Ward can help.

Most libraries that I know of don’t have a Wood Shop out back but they are toying with the idea of creating a “Maker’s Space” (<<< buzzword of 2012/13) in the library. Libraries also serve the role of information literacy promotion and education, public or academic. So, here’s the thing… the 3rd Ward is offering the public space to learn and be creative for a HUGE profit – they are taking what many libraries offer for free and one-upping it.

What can we learn from the success of the 3rd Ward:

  1. Beautiful, raw space to work and equipment provided
  2. Hive mind scenarios
  3. Makers Classes
  4. Cool Factor

Let’s examine these a bit closer:

1. Beautiful, raw space to work and equipment provided

The 3rd Ward used to be a huge, run-down warehouse wholly incomplete and void of luxury. If you look on the inside, you can see they have remodeled a lot to make the space functional and modern but they kept the “warehouse feel.” The public go there to get their hands dirty and work on their art/work – having marble flooring would have been impractical and uninspiring. Part of the draw is the “unfinished” feel of the place. But you don’t have to get your hands dirty if you don’t want to… you can work at a desk (which you pay monthly for) and get all these great features (note that most of the features are offered in some capacity by your library):

  • Stimulating Creative Work Environment (Library: resources galore)
  • Unlimited Conference Room Bookings (Library: study rooms)
  • Super fast WiFi (Library: same)
  • Free document printing and scanning (Library: depends if you are public or academic)
  • Fully-loaded iMac Design Workstations (3.06ghz Core 2 Duo, 4GB DDR3 RAM) (Library: for some this would be the equivalent of a Media Lab or computer lab)
  • Friendly front desk reception services (Library: Shout-out to Reference Librarians!)
  • Mail handling and business address (Library: non-existent unless you count inter-library loan)
  • Surround yourself with the most diverse creative population in NYC (Library: can make this same statement swapping out the word “creative” if they choose)
Part of the Wood Shop

Part of the Wood Shop


They also provide all the equipment to make your work easier and of professional quality. Libraries vary greatly on what they offer to their patrons as far as equipment and software – there are many grants out there that will help you gain more equipment for your library. The 3rd Ward specializes in Jewelry, metal, and wood working because that’s what their users needed the space for. What do YOUR users need the space for? Media labs are popular but try to think more specific than that. Perhaps your library’s school is big into Music – don’t just have a recording studio area, give them a space to study and create from beginning to end of the process.

2. Hivemind Scenarios

One of the biggest draws (and the one that will take some time to build up) to the 3rd Ward is the intermingling of various TYPES of creatives. I personally do a lot of graphic design work but am often inspired by a friends necklace or watching the dancers at the local ballet studio. Because the users of the 3rd Ward are surrounded by creative people of all fields, “cross-contamination” is bound to happen. The woodmaker inspires the web designer and the Jeweler helps solve a management problem. For our above Music example, the user gets done recording a cd and can talk to the graphic designer in the Digital Arts lab about getting a cover made.

Co-working Desks and Rooms -

Co-working Desks and Rooms –

3. Makers Classes

This is key to getting people to come into the Ward and one that libraries already do. The 3rd Ward offers classes using the space and resources that they offer for a price. It brings people in and gets them to look at the space as a potential working space in the future all while learning a valuable skill. Now, academics might struggle with this more than public libraries as their users are already taking their fill of classes in school. So what’s an academic to do? They can still hold special events in the library USING the space. In the Music example, have a real recording artist come in and evaluate the student’s work. Or let the students sign up for mentoring sessions with people in their field where they can work hands on in the library space.

4. Cool Factor

Simple Economics: the value of something increases when demand is hight and supply is low;

Simple Psychology: we all want to be a part of something great, even the most introverted person

Harsh Reality: for something to be desired and special, not everyone can have access to it

Now that I’ve rubbed half of the library demographic the wrong way, let me explain further. The 3rd Ward is for profit – they do have bills to pay afterall and if they were to be a non-profit and offer the space for free then they would be… well… you now… like libraries. So why, at such a high cost to rent, are they so successful at providing much of what libraries offer for free? My theory (besides the space being slightly different, the equipment offered more advanced) is that because not everyone can afford it. Much how Apple products are wildly popular despite their high cost, being able to pay for a creative space is not only a status symbol but it shows that you are “serious” about your work. It also give the public a sense of ownership and belonging. Look up the Apple Cult if you don’t believe this works.

But offering the library’s maker space to some and not others is against everything we stand for! – yes, I realize this, which is why I would never recommend following in the 3rd Ward’s footsteps on this. Instead, steal their concept: promote the space as being made specifically for them. Again, with the Music example I keep referring to, have the space be open to all students but give Music students the highest priority – make it cool to be a Music student in your library. Showcase what they make in the Maker space throughout the library (or at the entrance of the space as an inspiration for other students). Give them a reason why the space is better than their dorm room.

Most importantly, give them a sense of ownership and belonging. Let them sign up for part of the space for so many weeks at a time- like one would check out books, let them check out space. Give them somewhere to store their stuff if they need to. I realize lockers are pretty outdated but if the need is there, they could be really beneficial in spaces where the users is making something that they can’t work on back in their dorm room or home.

When redesigning your library space to include a “Maker’s Space” go beyond what other libraries are doing and take a look at what your competitors are using. Draw inspiration from the various jobs and fields of study that your community or institution offers. Make it applicable to the majority of your users but specific enough for a particular demographic.


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