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Public librarians' perception of their professional role and the library's role in supporting the public sphere: a multi-country comparison

Jamie Johnston (Oslo Metropolitan University (OsloMet), Oslo, Norway)
Ágústa Pálsdóttir (University of Iceland, Reykjavik, Iceland)
Anna Mierzecka (University of Warsaw, Warsaw, Poland)
Ragnar Andreas Audunson (Oslo Metropolitan University (OsloMet), Oslo, Norway)
Hans-Christoph Hobohm (University of Applied Sciences, Potsdam, Germany)
Kerstin Rydbeck (Uppsala University, Uppsala, Sweden)
Máté Tóth (University of Pécs, Pécs, Hungary)
Casper Hvenegaard Rasmussen (University of Copenhagen, Copenhagen, Denmark)
Henrik Jochumsen (University of Copenhagen, Copenhagen, Denmark)
Mahmood Khosrowjerdi (Høgskolen i Innlandet, Elverum, Norway)
Sunniva Evjen (Oslo Metropolitan University (OsloMet), Oslo, Norway)

Journal of Documentation

ISSN: 0022-0418

Article publication date: 29 December 2021

Issue publication date: 9 August 2022




The overarching aim of this article is to consider to what extent the perceptions of librarians in Denmark, Germany, Hungary, Iceland, Norway, Poland and Sweden reflect a unified view of their professional role and the role of their institutions in supporting the formation of the public sphere and to what extent the variations reflect national contexts.


The multi-country comparison is based on online questionnaires. The central research questions are how do librarians legitimize the use of public resources to uphold a public library service? How do librarians perceive the role of public libraries as public spaces? How do librarians perceive their professional role and the competencies needed for it? Consideration is given to how the digital and social turns are reflected in the responses.


The results show evidence of a unified professional culture with clear influences from national contexts. A key finding is that librarians see giving access as central for both legitimizing library services and for the library's role as a public sphere institution. Strong support is shown for the social turn in supporting the formation of the public sphere while the digital turn appears to be a future challenge; one of seemingly increased importance due to the pandemic.

Research limitations/implications

This study shows that libraries across the seven countries have expanded beyond simply providing public access to their book-based collections and now serve as social, learning and creative spaces: both in the physical library and digitally. Qualitative research is needed concerning librarians' notions of public libraries and librarianship, which will provide a more in-depth understanding of the changing professional responsibilities and how public libraries recruit the associated competencies.


The article provides a much needed insight into how librarians perceive the role of public libraries in supporting the formation of the public sphere and democratic processes, as well as their own role.



The co-authors of the article would like to thank co-author and the leader of the ALMPUB research project Dr. Ragnar Audunson for leading the research and for bringing them together as collaborators.

Funding: The paper is a part of the ALMPUB-project – Archives Libraries and Museums and the public sphere. The project was financed by the Norwegian Research Council, grant number NFR259052.


Johnston, J., Pálsdóttir, Á., Mierzecka, A., Audunson, R.A., Hobohm, H.-C., Rydbeck, K., Tóth, M., Hvenegaard Rasmussen, C., Jochumsen, H., Khosrowjerdi, M. and Evjen, S. (2022), "Public librarians' perception of their professional role and the library's role in supporting the public sphere: a multi-country comparison", Journal of Documentation, Vol. 78 No. 5, pp. 1109-1130.



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