Understanding Community Librarianship

New Library World

ISSN: 0307-4803

Article publication date: 1 June 2000




Freeman, M. (2000), "Understanding Community Librarianship", New Library World, Vol. 101 No. 3, pp. 141-143. https://doi.org/10.1108/nlw.2000.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

As the Preface states, “community” is today a very fashionable commodity – even percolating down to community pharmacy, community policing and, of course, community librarianship. This well produced and clearly written work for LIS practitioners and LIS students is based on and expanded from a research project and attempts to analyse the “community concept” critically – “community” is not always a benign influence, for instance. This is not a practical handbook of community librarianship, more a critical hard‐edged overview of the area and its ongoing metamorphosis. The authors take a wide and catholic perspective on the many influences impinging on public libraries in particular and over a fair span of time, such as Thatcherism, “Heritage Britain” and privatisation initiatives. They lament the failure of community librarianship to “deliver a rejuvenated egalitarian and more relevant public library”.

One can hear echoes of “social exclusion” and “underclass” concerns in much of the book, and quite rightly so. There are some nicely provocative and pertinent comments: “Public librarians might generally be termed good bureaucrats”, for instance, and these underline a thoughtful and far‐reaching overview of community librarianship as it was and is now. There is some good analysis and criticism of the ways public libraries tried to deal with societal change, particularly unemployment, community information needs, minority groups and multiculturalism, arguing that the “essentially bureaucratic nature of the library function” hampers radical innovative approaches to providing true community LIS to the people. The evolution into modern “managerial librarianship” with its panoply of “MBA‐speak”, performance indicators, MBO, cost centres, ad nauseum, is well covered as is the relentless rise of “Heritage Services” and their impact on public libraries: “Heritage is Thatcherism in period dress”. And for the future? The authors argue that the public library will have to reinvent itself if it is to survive in post‐modern Britain; it has done so before in 1918 and 1945, but to survive and flourish into the new century will require great powers of motivation, innovation, vision and flexibility. A well constructed and up‐to‐date Bibliography adds to the value of this workmanlike volume.

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