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The image of the library through the eyes of immigrant and migrant readers

Keren Dali (Research Methods and Information Science, University of Denver, Denver, Colorado, USA)

Journal of Documentation

ISSN: 0022-0418

Article publication date: 26 February 2021

Issue publication date: 10 August 2021




Drawing on the survey of Spanish-speaking immigrant and migrant readers in Canada and the US, this study pursues three goals: (1) examine the image of the library held by these readers and trace the change of this image after the international migration; (2) use the study findings to revise and update the currently existing typologies of the image of the library; and (3) understand ethical and effective research practices in the studies of immigrant/migrant communities whereby researchers are external to communities in question.


The data about immigrant/migrant readers were collected through a self-administered survey questionnaire that was available both in print and electronically, both in Spanish and English. The data analysis was guided by hermeneutic phenomenology, as explicated in the article. Theoretical examination of the image of the library relied on the earlier typology developed by V. Stelmakh.


The study elucidates perceptions of libraries and librarians in both North America and countries of origin held by Spanish-speaking immigrant/migrant readers, and highlights changes that occur in the image of the library as readers move across geographic borders. Building on the empirical data, the article develops a new typology of the image of the library. It also offers insight into ethical and effective ways of engaging with immigrant communities that should be upheld by researchers from outside the communities in question.


It is the first known study that systematically traces the changes in the image of the library which occur alongside geographic and sociocultural migrations. It is also the first known study that focuses specifically on readers rather than library users in general. The new typology consists of four different elements – the cultural image; the functional image; the humanistic image; and the ideological image of the library – and is accompanied by detailed definitions of each.



This article draws on research supported by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada. The survey was carried out at Western University, London, Ontario, Canada, and the data were processed at the University of Denver, USA. The authors thanks Catherine L. Ross for her support through the project. An immense special thank-you also goes to Juan Ilerbaig (U of Toronto), Adriana Blancarte-Hayward (NYPL), Miguel Torrens (U of Toronto Library), and Denice Adkins (U of Missouri) for conveying critical feedback on different segments of this paper; their invaluable insights into Spanish-language culture; consultations on the historical and cultural aspects of Latinx and Hispanic immigration to North America; and suggestions of appropriate terminology. The author also thanks Laina Kelly, Lilith Lee, Pearl Bass, Clarissa Vannier, and Tegan M. E. Mitchell for their assistance with data processing and bibliographic verification. The author is indebted to public and community libraries in the Greater Toronto Area and the New York City metro area that assisted with this research and to librarians in both countries who consulted her at the stage of survey and manuscript preparation. A special heartfelt thank you goes to the readers who answered the survey.


Dali, K. (2021), "The image of the library through the eyes of immigrant and migrant readers", Journal of Documentation, Vol. 77 No. 5, pp. 1073-1095.



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