Palaces for the People: Mapping Public Libraries' Capacity for Social Connection and Inclusion
Public libraries are trusted community hubs that foster connections with individuals of different socioeconomic statuses; ages; ethnic, linguistic, religious, and cultural backgrounds; and sexual and gender identities. Located in diverse settings, library branches offer resources and programs that meet the specific needs of their communities who are navigating the effects of our increasingly asocial society. Libraries have been shown to cater to individuals contending with higher levels of social isolation and loneliness, as well as increased rates of mental illnesses and antisocial behaviours. The shift to online environments during COVID-19 has exacerbated feelings of disconnection. During these times of change, public libraries facilitate resilience, helping communities withstand and adapt to difficult circumstances. While several individual studies have separately examined libraries’ outreach efforts, what remains unknown is the broader knowledge landscape regarding public library practices, spaces, and activities that collectively create and reinforce social connections in an increasingly asocial society. We examined scholarly literature to answer the following questions to to bridge existing knowledge gaps: How do public libraries help patrons create or maintain connections in their communities? What population groups are included in public library research and in what ways are they differently impacted by public library services, materials, and/or spaces? How are public library virtual programming and services (especially prominent during COVID-19) changing the ways in which patrons engage with public libraries? In what ways does the Canadian public library research landscape compare or differ from that in European and Australasia countries, and what lessons can we glean from these differences?Underlying a majority of the included articles is an acknowledgement that the role of public libraries is changing, from operating as information repositories to now also operating as community hubs. The ways in which public library systems and branches engage with their communities and patrons are therefore also shifting. Focusing in particular on the current state of public library-related research knowledge on issues related to growing feelings of disconnection, isolation and loneliness, articles explored the multiple ways in which public libraries afford connection for and among their patrons. Public libraries draw on their spaces, their staff, their collections and materials, their programs, and relationships with community organizations to bolster feelings of connection. Given the distribution of public libraries across the country, in urban and rural locales and in neighbourhoods of high and low poverty, the ways in which public libraries both connect with and provide connection manifest differently depending on their contexts. Research on this topic is indicative of the many different population groups that public libraries engage with and support on a daily basis. Research focuses on a myriad of population groups, including: children, youth, older adults, parents, unhoused populations, differently abled individuals, immigrants and non-permanent residents, among others. This breadth of population groups, each with their own unique circumstances, needs, and expectations, is indicative of the range of factors and contexts library workers need to consider and incorporate in their programs, collections, arrangement of physical and virtual spaces, and administration. Across published research, public libraries fostered connection through the following means: Encouraging feelings of belonging Creating connections through technology Reinforcing cultural identities Creating safe physical spaces Addressing issues of accessibility Creating new educational programming Creating new recreational/social programming
Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 4.0 License.
Report for the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada. Primary deposit at http://hdl.handle.net/11375/28142