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Public libraries as an infrastructure for a sustainable public sphere: A comprehensive review of research

Ragnar Audunson (Department of Archivistics, Library and Information Science, Faculty of Social Sciences, Oslo Metropolitan University, Oslo, Norway)
Svanhild Aabø (Department of Archivistics, Library and Information Science, Faculty of Social Sciences, Oslo Metropolitan University, Oslo, Norway)
Roger Blomgren (Department of Libraries, Swedish School of Library and Information Science, Borås, Sweden)
Sunniva Evjen (Department of Archivistics, Library and Information Science, Faculty of Social Sciences, Oslo Metropolitan University, Oslo, Norway)
Henrik Jochumsen (Department of Information Studies, University of Copenhagen, Copenhagen, Denmark)
Håkon Larsen (Department of Social and Educational Sciences, Inland Norway University of Applied Sciences, Hamar, Norway)
Casper Hvenegaard Rasmussen (Department of Information Studies, University of Copenhagen, Copenhagen, Denmark)
Andreas Vårheim (Department of Culture and Literature, University of Tromsø, Tromsø, Norway)
Jamie Johnston (Department of Archivistics, Library and Information Science, Faculty of Social Sciences, Oslo Metropolitan University, Oslo, Norway)
Masanori Koizumi (Faculty of Library, Information and Media Science, University of Tsukuba, Tsukuba, Japan)

Journal of Documentation

ISSN: 0022-0418

Article publication date: 31 May 2019

Issue publication date: 21 June 2019

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Abstract

Purpose

The purpose of this paper is to examine the shaping of public libraries as an infrastructure for a sustainable public sphere through a comprehensive literature review.

Design/methodology/approach

In order to capture the whole picture of this research field, we utilize comprehensive review methodology. The major research questions are: first, to what extent have research topics regarding libraries as public sphere institutions expanded and diversified? Which theoretical perspectives inform research? Second, which challenges and topics does the research focus upon, such as: social inclusion and equal access to information; digital inequalities; censorship and freedom of expression; and access to places and spaces with a democratic potential and the role of libraries in that respect? Third, what influence has social media exerted on libraries in the context of the expanding digital world?

Findings

The authors identified mainly four themes regarding the public library and public sphere, such as: the importance of public libraries by using Habermas’s theory; the function of meeting places within the public library and setting those places in the center of the library in order to enhance and encourage democracy; the relationship between social inclusion and public libraries and its functions in current society such as diminishing the digital divide; and the emerging electronic resources and arena of SNS in public libraries and utilizing them to reach citizens.

Originality/value

Capturing the recent history of this research field through comprehensive review is valuable.

Keywords

Acknowledgements

The paper is a part of the ALMPUB-project – Archives Libraries and Museums and the public sphere – financed by the Norwegian Research Council, grant number NFR259052. This work was also supported by JSPS KAKENHI Grant Number JP16KK0072.

Citation

Audunson, R., Aabø, S., Blomgren, R., Evjen, S., Jochumsen, H., Larsen, H., Rasmussen, C.H., Vårheim, A., Johnston, J. and Koizumi, M. (2019), "Public libraries as an infrastructure for a sustainable public sphere: A comprehensive review of research", Journal of Documentation, Vol. 75 No. 4, pp. 773-790. https://doi.org/10.1108/JD-10-2018-0157

Publisher

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Emerald Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2019, Emerald Publishing Limited