Libraries as Place: Is LIS education and research ignoring the idea of library as place?

Our next discussion topic is guest hosted by the Queensland University of Technology Information Studies Group with the team exploring the the topic of libraries as place.  Today’s post comes from Dr Kate Davis:

Photo CC0 by Josh Felise

Photo CC0 by Josh Felise

I read an interesting article recently that I wanted to share. The article Falling short of their profession’s needs looks at reading and library as place and the purported absence of these in LIS curricula and research.

Writing about his research for the book Part of Our Lives: A People¹s History of the American Public Library, Wayne A. Wiegand highlights the role of place in the history of the public library:

³[Libraries] have been places of performance where users displayed moral progress and achievement. They have functioned as centripetal forces to craft a sense of community among disparate populations and evolve community trust among its multicultural elements. They have acted as key players not only to increase literacy (tens of thousands of immigrants learned English by reading printed materials from their public libraries) but also to construct group identity through the stories and places they provided. And public libraries have also started neighborhood conversations, welcomed the recently arrived into their midst, and served as community anchors.”

But the author also says that neither LIS research or LIS curricula adequately addresses the concept of library as place, and that both are failing to meet the needs of the profession:

“until LIS educators teach library reading and library as place in their professional programs at the core level, and until LIS researchers ask questions about what users learn from their interaction with libraries and determine how that learning fits into their everyday lives, both are addressing only a fraction of what libraries actually do for their patrons. And both are falling short of their profession¹s needs.”

What do you think? Is library as place underrepresented in LIS research? Did your LIS course cover library as place?

Posted in Discussion topics, Round 2016B and tagged , , , .


  1. While there is a strong streak for LIS research in info lit (especially in the academic library setting), there actually are a lot of ethnographic studies of space usage. I think that’s actually some of the most helpful research out there, especially when confronted with someone saying “does anyone use a library anymore?”

  2. Kate – I definitely agree. I went looking for this in the LIS literature 2 years ago to support a position “paper” at work – designing a new library – and came away with nothing. I couldn’t get across the idea that the Library wasn’t just about the books, but that it was a space where the staff (I work in a hospital) come to study, and it’s about their mindset. When they come in, it’s a study place, and their brains switch to study mode. They want it available 24/7, but the Library’s location and lack of outer door (it can only be accessed from inside the building it’s in) means they can’t have that. Very disappointing for them, and very frustrating for me.

  3. I think designing a library that functions as an integral and interdependent part
    of the institution’s total educational experience requires collaborative planning that includes the library director, members of the administration, trustees, students, and faculty.So the principal challenge for the architect is to design a learning and research environment that is transparent and sufficiently flexible to support this evolution in use.The new and emerging information technologies can be combined with traditional knowledge resources in a user-focused, service-rich environment that supports today’s social and educational patterns of learning, teaching, and research.

  4. Well, the public library, no doubt your space must be open to as many activities as users. But the library of a hospital or a laboratory (research) .. I’m not sure of the need for such openness. For your own community, yes.

    Teaching the essence of a library; the mission. The use of space, I think, is similar to technological change and that corresponds rather to the changes each propfesional should be doing for their good practice.

  5. The first point to make is that ‘place’ can mean many things to many people — from a mental preoccupation, or relaxing space (in the previous post), to a physical refuge from the hurly-burly of a city or extremes of climate. The library as place will appeal to a homeless person in a different way from a research student or scientist.
    Although there may be no research projects labelled simply ‘libraries as places’, search curricula or research outputs for alternative approaches — information-seeking, user studies, learning in schools (= places), special disciplinary information requirements (= intellectual places), and so on. Imagination in searching is essential in this as in most topics.

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