Open to all, free to enter: the municipal library as a public space — ASN Events

Open to all, free to enter: the municipal library as a public space (12776)

Jen Li 1
  1. Institute for Culture and Society, University of Western Sydney, Sydney, NSW, Australia

Public libraries are an important element of the contemporary state's provision of cultural services. The spaces within the library are used by multiple groups: old and young, employed and unemployed, homeless and housed, readers and non-readers. They are used for various activities: reading, studying, researching, working, relaxing, socialising. Through the municipal public library, the state provides information and knowledge in the form of books and other media, as well as warmth or coolness, shelter, and temporary personal space [away from the home].

Drawing on Massey's (2005) threefold understanding of spatiality (relational, heterogeneous; and always under construction), this paper examines the production of library space. It utilises findings from semi-structured interviews with librarians and library users in three Sydney municipal libraries, as part of a broader research project on the dynamics of library spaces.

Libraries act as a structured space of everyday citizenship, where quotidian routines of library users become entangled with ideas of democracy and publicness, and space is made and remade by each user. The spaces are produced firstly by the design of the librarian and architect, and then again as library patrons use the space. The public library is a place primarily  funded by ratepayers; used by the local population; and created, both in collection and space, for the local community. On the surface, the activities that occur in the library are mundane and ordinary, but it is in these routines that we observe the everyday lived experience of democracy, freedom and public spaces.