Thursday, 5 March 2009

the social impact of public libraries

I have found a paper that gives a very good background argument to my research. "The Social Impact of Public Libraries; a Literature review" by Evelyn Kerslake and Margaret Kinnel of the Department of Information And Library studies, Loughborough University, 1997. They analyse the literature that considers social effects of public libraries in a qualitative way. They start by explaining that "...the History of Public Libraries all over the world is packed with examples of their social importance; as developers of adult and childhood literacy... " this statement confirms the validity of my wanting to understand the literacy effect of Children's mobile libraries. They are simply public libraries that go out to people, instead of people going out to them. As a public library they have a responsibility to develop literacy. I need to examine the way that they do this and weigh up the effect against the cost.

They also state that "it does not follow that everybody uses public libraries." This statement gives weight to the argument that mobile libraries need to go into the community, because for many reasons it is the only way that some people would access a library. This needs to be a question that I ask in my research. I need to look again at geographical barriers to information flows, and the document that supports it. The biggest justification for my methodology is their consideration that the quantitative research that is done by public libraries, for instance counting book lending figures and visitor numbers, has been carried out "at the expense of any focus on theoretical work (Usherwood, 1989,p138), which among other things, would examine and develop the contemporary rational and meaning of the public libraries." Therefore, if the rational of a children's mobile library is to promote literacy and the love of books, then that cannot be counted by the footfall, the number of people entering the library, or the number of books that they borrow, because they could come in for a chat, to see other people, because they are with a friend, and the book they may borrow may not be challenging their literacy skills, or may be borrowed and never read. Of course there is an argument that even having books at home, or just flicking through the pages is the start of a literacy process. Taking out a book is not a measure of someones literacy, taking out a series of books over time can be, because you can measure the difference in complexity of books borrowed, have they become more advance in vocabulary and content? Should I do some sort of long term thing like that?

They state that the Dept National Heritage, now Dept culture Media and Sport, now something else, concur with the sentiment and emphasise the significance of public library services to children and those improving their literacy skills. They believe that "social impact is often undervalued or overlooked in assessments of the public library". They reason that the complexity of doing that sort of research is why it is not done.

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