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The Big Society and English public libraries: where are we now?

Anne Goulding (School of Information Management, Victoria University of Wellington, Wellington, New Zealand)

New Library World

ISSN: 0307-4803

Article publication date: 18 November 2013




The purpose of this paper is to analyse the impact of the Big Society on public libraries in England. It evaluates the conceptualisation of public libraries as agents in the Big Society agenda and explores the practical implications of this positioning.


The author critically evaluates evidence from a range of literature, documentation and other sources on the topics of the Big Society, localism and public libraries, the majority of which is of English or UK origin, including that from academic journals, books, grey literature and web sites including blogs and discussion lists. Recent and current developments are reviewed and commented on from the author's viewpoint.


The paper advances the view that although public libraries encapsulate many Big Society values, including community empowerment and social action, many local councils are seizing on Big Society rhetoric as an expedient method for driving through cutbacks and closures, rather than as a way of making a true shift of power from governors to the governed.


The paper critically evaluates discourses surrounding public libraries and the Big Society with the aim of raising awareness of the local authority policy context and stimulating discussion of the future of public libraries in England.



Goulding, A. (2013), "The Big Society and English public libraries: where are we now?", New Library World, Vol. 114 No. 11/12, pp. 478-493.



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