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Public libraries: roles in Big Data

Ming Zhan (Department of Information Studies, Åbo Akademi, Turku, Finland)
Gunilla Widén (Department of Information Studies, Åbo Akademi, Turku, Finland)

The Electronic Library

ISSN: 0264-0473

Article publication date: 5 February 2018




The purpose of this paper is to explore the roles of public libraries in the context of Big Data.


A mixed method approach was used and had two main data collection phases. A survey of public libraries was used to generate an overview of which professional roles connect public libraries with Big Data. Eight roles were identified, namely, educator, marketer, data organiser, data container, advocator, advisor, developer and organisation server. Semi-structured interviews with library directors and managers were then conducted to gain a deeper understanding of these roles and how they connect to the library’s overall functions.


Results of the survey indicated that librarians lack a proper comprehension of and a pragmatic application of Big Data. Their opinions on the eight roles are slightly stronger than neutral. However, they do not demonstrate any strong agreement on these eight roles. In the interviews, the eight roles attained more clear support and are classified into two groups: service-oriented and system-oriented roles.


As an emerging research field, Big Data is not widely discussed in the library context, especially in public libraries. Therefore, this study fills a research gap between public libraries and Big Data. In addition, Big Data in public libraries could be well managed and readily approached by citizens in undertaking such roles, which entails that public libraries will eventually benefit from the Big Data era.



The authors acknowledge the financial support from Turku City and the help of Kalle Varila from Turku Main Library. In addition, they are grateful for all the participants in the survey and the interviews, and comments and suggestions received from scholars and librarians.


Zhan, M. and Widén, G. (2018), "Public libraries: roles in Big Data", The Electronic Library, Vol. 36 No. 1, pp. 133-145.



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Copyright © 2018, Emerald Publishing Limited

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