Libraries, democracy, information literacy, and citizenship

Johanna Rivano Eckerdal (Department of Arts and Cultural Sciences, Lund University, Lund, Sweden)

Journal of Documentation

ISSN: 0022-0418

Publication date: 11 September 2017



The purpose of this paper is to advocate and contribute to a more nuanced and discerning argument when ascribing a democratic role to libraries and activities related to information literacy.


The connections between democracy and libraries as well as between citizenship and information literacy are analysed by using Mouffe’s agonistic pluralism. One example is provided by a recent legislative change (the new Swedish Library Act) and the documents preceding it. A second, more detailed example concerns how information literacy may be conceptualised when related to young women’s sexual and reproductive health. Crucial in both examples are the suggestions of routes to travel that support equality and inclusion for all.


Within an agonistic approach, democracy concerns equality and interest in making efforts to include the less privileged. The inclusion of a democratic aim, directed towards everyone, for libraries in the new Library Act can be argued to emphasise the political role of libraries. A liberal and a radical understanding of information literacy is elaborated, the latter is advocated. Information literacy is also analysed in a non-essentialist manner, as a description of a learning activity, therefore always value-laden.


The agonistic reading of two central concepts in library and information studies, namely, libraries and information literacy is fruitful and shows how the discipline may contribute to strengthen democracy in society both within institutions as libraries and in other settings.



The author thanks the anonymous reviewers for their insightful comments and the author’s colleagues in the research group Information Practices: Communication, Culture and Society for valuable discussions that helped to improve this paper. The author is also grateful to the Faculties of Humanities and Theology at Lund University for granting a sabbatical that made it possible to write this paper.


Rivano Eckerdal, J. (2017), "Libraries, democracy, information literacy, and citizenship", Journal of Documentation, Vol. 73 No. 5, pp. 1010-1033.

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