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The public library as public sphere: a longitudinal analysis

Appleton, Leo; Hall, Hazel


Leo Appleton

Hazel Hall


The research was undertaken to explore 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.

A longitudinal, multi-location focus group approach was developed and deployed in three phases. Data were collected from 53 active public library users in a total of 24 focus groups conducted in eight different public library services in England and Scotland in 2015–2016 (Phase 1), 2016–17 (Phase 2) and 2017–18 (Phase 3). Data collected were transcribed and coded using NVivo 10- for thematic analysis.

The public library's role as public sphere aligns closely with its epistemic functions, adding a dimension to information services provision beyond access to “traditional” print and online sources. New information and knowledge emerge through the person-to-person interactions in public library space. Through such exchanges, the community function of public libraries is made evident, notably as a platform for citizens to participate actively in society, including its democratic processes.

Unlike much extant prior work on public library value dominated with accounts of societal and/or economic impact, w hich is frequently based on the analysis of quantitative data, here the fundamental epistemic value of public library services is demonstrated. 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.

Journal Article Type Article
Acceptance Date Apr 14, 2022
Online Publication Date May 9, 2022
Publication Date Jan 10, 2023
Deposit Date Apr 20, 2022
Publicly Available Date May 9, 2022
Journal Journal of Documentation
Print ISSN 0022-0418
Publisher Emerald
Peer Reviewed Peer Reviewed
Volume 79
Issue 1
Pages 112-126
Keywords Impact; Value; Public Libraries; Public Sphere; Social Capital; Focus Groups;
Public URL


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