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Public libraries as public sphere institutions: A comparative study of perceptions of the public library’s role in six European countries

Ragnar Audunson (Faculty of Social Sciences, Department of Archivistics, Library and Information Science, Oslo Metropolitan University, Oslo, Norway)
Svanhild Aabø (Faculty of Social Sciences, Department of Archivistics, Library and Information Science, Oslo Metropolitan University, Oslo, Norway)
Roger Blomgren (School of Library and Information Science, Borås University, Borås, Sweden)
Hans-Christoph Hobohm (Department of Information Sciences, University of Applied Sciences, Potsdam, Germany)
Henrik Jochumsen (Department of Information Studies, University of Copenhagen, Copenhagen, Denmark)
Mahmood Khosrowjerdi (Inland Norway University of Applied Sciences, Elverum, Norway)
Rudolf Mumenthaler (Chur University of Applied Sciences, Chur, Switzerland)
Karsten Schuldt (Chur University of Applied Sciences, Chur, Switzerland)
Casper Hvenegaard Rasmussen (Department of Information Studies, University of Copenhagen, Copenhagen, Denmark)
Kerstin Rydbeck (University of Uppsala, Uppsala, Sweden)
Máté Tóth (National Library of Hungary, Budapest, Hungary)
Andreas Vårheim (Department of Culture and Literature, University of Tromsø, Tromsø, Norway)

Journal of Documentation

ISSN: 0022-0418

Article publication date: 13 August 2019

Issue publication date: 19 September 2019

Abstract

Purpose

The purpose of this paper is to analyze the role of public libraries as institutions underpinning a democratic public sphere as reasons legitimizing libraries compared to reasons that are more traditional and the actual use of libraries as public sphere arenas.

Design/methodology/approach

A survey of representative samples of the adult population in six countries – Denmark, Sweden, Norway, Germany, Hungary and Switzerland – was undertaken.

Findings

Legitimations related to the libraries role as a meeting place and arena for public debate are ranked as the 3 least important out of 12 possible legitimations for upholding a public library service. Libraries are, however, used extensively by the users to access citizenship information and to participate in public sphere relevant meetings.

Originality/value

Few studies have empirically analyzed the role of libraries in upholding a democratic and sustainable public sphere. This study contributes in filling that gap.

Keywords

Citation

Audunson, R., Aabø, S., Blomgren, R., Hobohm, H.-C., Jochumsen, H., Khosrowjerdi, M., Mumenthaler, R., Schuldt, K., Rasmussen, C.H., Rydbeck, K., Tóth, M. and Vårheim, A. (2019), "Public libraries as public sphere institutions: A comparative study of perceptions of the public library’s role in six European countries", Journal of Documentation, Vol. 75 No. 6, pp. 1396-1415. https://doi.org/10.1108/JD-02-2019-0015

Publisher

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Emerald Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2019, Emerald Publishing Limited