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Legitimacy for large public libraries in the digital age

Vivienne Waller (Institute for Social Research, Swinburne University of Technology, Hawthorn, Victoria, Australia)

Library Review

ISSN: 0024-2535

Article publication date: 23 May 2008




The purpose of this paper is to critically analyse recent developments in the relationship of large public libraries with digital technologies, suggesting a way of rethinking the future of large public libraries.


This paper bases its critical analysis on a review of the literature and reference to specific cases. Historical quotes preceding sections augment the argument that many of the current concerns about digital technologies are not new issues for libraries.


Issues around library take up of digital technology are continuations of debates that have occurred throughout the history of public libraries about the role of the library. In Australia, library policy makers are focusing on technology and an imagined user in an effort to prove the legitimacy of large public libraries to funding bodies, the library profession and library users. Such attempts seem doomed to fail.

Practical implications

Public libraries need to be clear about their purpose as publicly funded institutions in the digital age. This requires a renewed understanding of a library's publics and a critical understanding of the nature of services available using digital technologies.


This paper presents an alternative way of thinking about the future of large public libraries, with much of the discussion also relevant to local public libraries.



Waller, V. (2008), "Legitimacy for large public libraries in the digital age", Library Review, Vol. 57 No. 5, pp. 372-385.



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Copyright © 2008, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

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