Copying and Copy Shops as Third Place

A couple weeks ago my colleague Sheila Liming gave a paper at our NDUS Arts and Humanities Outrage Summit in which she advocated for the development of third places (or third spaces) in downtown Grand Forks, ND. Following Ray Oldenburg’s concept of the third place, she argued that communities need places that are neither work nor home and provide an affordable, accessible place for conversation and socialization. 

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I’ve been reading – savoring really – Kate Eichhorn’s Adjusted Margin: Xerography, Art, and Activism in the Late Twentieth Century (MIT 2016). She describes copy shops as third places around which communities developed and which became centers of certain kinds of activism especially among groups who were traditionally marginalized for their politics, forms of cultural expression, or social class. Perhaps the book resonated with me because like many graduate students of my generation (Ph.D. 2003), I spent lots of time in copy shops desperately duplicating books and articles acquired from interlibrary loan and invariably due back sooner than was convenient. When I relocated the Wilmington, Delaware for a year after completing my Ph.D., I once again found copy shops a convenient home for making copies of vital research material and preparing handouts for the classes that I taught as an adjunct in the area.

Eichhorn also unpacked photocopying itself as a technology and considered its role in democratizing some forms of publishing. While, on the one hand, Eichhorn was clear that photocopying did not come to replace traditional publishing, but, on the other hand, it did offer a readily available tool to chip away at the edge of copyright and publishers seeming monopoly on the distribution of printed words. The appearance of ‘zines and other informal, photocopied publications revealed that a creative impulse and a market (however ephemeral) existed to produce and consume these kinds of works. 

In fact, this early photocopy culture – and its intersection with the punk rock movement – inspired my own venture into publishing that has leveraged a new set of technologies built on a similar digital infrastructure. For example, print-on-demand technologies allow books to be printed cheaply, to create economies of scale, and to eliminate inventory costs. Technology used to layout attractive pages and book length manuscripts is now (relatively) affordable, easy to use, and can run on an inexpensive laptop computer. In other words, the democratic potential of photocopying has become increasingly realized in the 21st century as new publishing models have emerged.

I hope that these new moves in publishing will created the kind textual third space/place where the margins and the center intersect in new ways. Our book on Punk rock and archaeology is a manifestation of this kind of third spacing that I envision. Not only did the idea bring together the margins and the center, but it also embraced a DIY style of publishing, the integration of blog posts, and a casual, but academic style. 

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