The public library as public sphere: new article accepted for publication in the Journal of Documentation

Journal of Documentation 2021The public library as public sphere: a longitudinal analysis has been accepted for publication in the Journal of Documentation. I recently co-authored this article with Dr Leo Appleton (Senior University Teacher at the University of Sheffield).

In the article, Leo and I discuss the role of the UK public library as a public sphere, and the ways in which this role relates to the epistemic, community, and political functions of public libraries. The article is a major output from Leo‘s doctoral research, which he completed part-time in the Centre for Social Informatics. The findings presented in the article derive from the analysis of empirical data that Leo collected in 24 focus groups with active public library users over a period of four years.

We argue that the public library’s role as a public sphere aligns closely with its epistemic functions, adding a dimension to information services provision beyond access to ‘traditional’ print and online sources. We also identify that new information and knowledge emerge through person-to-person interactions in public library space, and that – through such exchanges – the community function of public libraries is made evident, notably as a platform for citizens to participate actively in society, including in its democratic processes.

Much prior research on public library value tends to focus on accounts of societal and/or economic impact, and is often based on the analysis of quantitative data.  In contrast, here the fundamental epistemic value of public library services is demonstrated in a qualitative study. This research also adds an important perspective to the domain of Information Society Studies where, to date, the place of the public library as public sphere has been treated as peripheral.

A PDF of the full text of the manuscript of this article is available for download from the Edinburgh Napier repository.

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