FIMS Publications


How do you solve a problem like the whole user? The construction of worthy and problematic users in online discussions of the public library

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Journal of the Australian Library and Information Association

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In this article I use a discursive approach and the concept of the ‘category entitlement’ to analyse the ways that contributors to a public Internet discussion of the value of the public library make cases for different user characteristics and behaviour as ‘worthy’ or ‘problematic’, and use these characteristics to discuss and debate the kinds of individuals and the kinds of behaviour that properly belong to each category. Contributors to the discussion represented users in three categories: a fluid ‘everyone’, which included people represented as being disadvantaged and in legitimate need of the library’s resources, expertise, and support; the user in-formation, whose worthy variant takes advantage of the library’s offerings to achieve success in economic, cultural, and civic domains and whose problematic variant fails to do so; and the visceral user who may meet bodily needs or engage in pleasurable non-purposive activities and who is deemed worthy or problematic based on their behaviour in the library space. Despite public libraries’ growing emphasis on serving the whole user, these public comments prioritise users who exercise their mind to develop into worthy members of a community and who meet behavioural expectations consistent with quiet intellectual activity.


This is an Accepted Manuscript of an article published by Taylor & Francis in Journal of the Australian Library and Information Association on 28 November 2019, available online:

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