Electronic Thesis and Dissertation Repository


Doctor of Philosophy


Library & Information Science


Dr. Gloria J. Leckie


This study investigates the materially-embedded relations of power between library users and staff within public library buildings and how building design regulates spatial behavior according to library organizational objectives. Most specifically it considers three public library buildings as organization spaces and determines the extent to which their respective spatial organizations reproduce the relations of power between the library and its public that originated with the modern public library building “type” ca. 1900.

I adopted a multiple case study design, employing several qualitative data collection methods and analysis. I conducted site visits to three, purposefully-selected public library buildings (i.e., “cases”) of relatively similar size but varying ages: first, a neo-classical Carnegie library (updated with extensive renovations and additions); second, a library of the late-Modernist period containing no additions or extensions; and third, a postmodernist (and recently completed) library building (also without extensions or additions) exemplifying the most current application of library design principles. I visited each library for 5 days. Site visits included: blueprint analysis (to understand the library space as conceived by planners and architects); organizational document analysis (to understand the library’s organizational goals and service objectives); in-depth, semi-structured interviews with library users and library staff members (to understand how, and for what reasons, library users and staff use different spaces within the library building); cognitive mapping exercises with all interview participants (to understand how they perceive landmarks and boundaries within the library); and observations and photography (to record general library activity).

Findings indicate that—despite newer approaches to designing public library buildings, the use of newer information technologies in libraries, and the emergence of newer paradigms of library service delivery (e.g., the “user-centered” approach)—the library as an organization still relies on many of the same socio-spatial models of control as it did one century ago when public library building design first became standardized. This not only calls into question the public library’s progressiveness over the last century but also hints at its ability to survive in the new century.