Tuesday, 10 March 2009

More of the social impact of public libraries

This is more comment on "The Social Impact of Public Libraries; a literature review" by Evelyn Kerslake and Margaret Kinnel.

Public Libraries were historically concerned with the improvement of the lower social orders, to "control and civilise them," and to liberate the "working and middle classes with self instructing literature". Later, the ideal of enabling the individual as a good citizen was included into library work, and in the 20th Century this idea prompted Children's services in libraries. Later in the decade, in the 1970's, the community became important, with the library becoming a hub for community knowledge, and community Librarians, trying to direct library services to people who are not currently using them. Libraries then historically have the purpose of making a social impact, of effecting the people in their community.

This people focused, soft approach is very difficult to capture, count and analyse. How can you measure the success a library user getting a better job, or a child loving books? It is difficult to justify that to the accountants. Because of this libraries have stuck to the safe way of justifying their spending of public money, quantitative evaluation. The educational and cultural aspect of Public libraries are however, vital supports when there are changes in society such as : long term employment, flexible labour, unskilled labour forces, increase of older people, migrant workers.

Libraries have an impact on
  • the community in which it operates
  • the impact of skills
  • and an economic impact.

I am interested in the first of these categories, to see what the effect of a library going out to the people has on the community, even though it is targeted at children.

Kerslake and Kinnel state that "There are two particularly significant yet marginalised groups in UK society for whom the public library makes provision where other institutions do not: children from all ethnic groups and people with disabilities". There is a study from the US of librarians going out to homeless shelters to provide activities to encourage literacy, and storytelling to develop social skills and confidence.

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