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Redeploying public librarians to the front-lines: prioritizing digital inclusion

Siobhan A. Stevenson (Faculty of Information, University of Toronto, Toronto, Canada)
Caleb Domsy (Humber Libraries, Humber College Institute of Technology and Advanced Learning, Toronto, Canada)

Library Review

ISSN: 0024-2535

Article publication date: 5 September 2016

2022

Abstract

Purpose

This paper aims to draw attention to the quiet, if inadvertent, disappearance of the front-line public librarian, as libraries make difficult organizational choices in the struggle to survive the relentless pressures to cut costs on one side while supporting a market ethos of customer service on the other.

Design/methodology/approach

Informed by the preliminary findings of a pan-Canadian study of labour in large urban public libraries and a review of professional and academic literatures dealing with contemporary service trends, four models/proposals [(1) participative, (2) community-led, (3) managerial/leadership and (4) digital inclusion] are critically reviewed with respect to their positioning of the front-line professional librarian.

Findings

The paper concludes with an argument in favor of one of these proposals because it supports the relevance of public librarians in service to their communities while remaining true to the democratic aspirations of this vital public service within our increasingly complex information societies.

Research limitations/implications

The implication of this work is that by drawing our attention to the contradictions inherent within contemporary and popular library initiatives, the disconnect between formal education and professional practice is highlighted, thus providing a foundation for new empirical research into the changing nature of waged work (professional and non-professional) in public libraries.

Practical implications

Failure to situate the professional public librarian strategically and unambiguously within the rapidly evolving roles of the public library has implications for LIS educators, employers and, as significantly, current and future students.

Social implications

Despite the high rates of connectivity among Western nations and the increasing sophistication of their populations, the digital divide persists among a growing urban and rural underclass. Building, maintaining and promoting a strong and accessible municipal information infrastructure, one could argue, is what public librarianship is all about.

Originality/value

This paper’s identification and critical review of the four dominant service models proposed for the present public library represents the first time that these literatures have been assembled together and critically interrogated for their implications for the work of public librarians. Given the importance of the question “what is the future role of the public library”, a critical analysis of the key contenders is a necessary exercise, as is shifting the subject of the conversation away from the customer and onto the professional public librarian.

Keywords

Citation

Stevenson, S.A. and Domsy, C. (2016), "Redeploying public librarians to the front-lines: prioritizing digital inclusion", Library Review, Vol. 65 No. 6/7, pp. 370-385. https://doi.org/10.1108/LR-02-2016-0015

Publisher

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Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2016, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

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