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Public libraries as impartial spaces in a consumer society : possible, plausible, desirable?

Rooney-Browne, C. and McMenemy, D. (2010) Public libraries as impartial spaces in a consumer society : possible, plausible, desirable? New Library World, 111 (11/12). pp. 455-467.

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Abstract

To question whether in an increasingly commercialized '24/7' information and entertainment society are public libraries finding it progressively more difficult to provide access to trusted, impartial public spaces free from commercial influence. The article reflects on the secondary literature related to public library as an impartial space, the modern commercial factors impacting on this role, and provides a SWOT analysis examining whether the role as impartial space is under threat. The authors address whether public libraries should conform to a more commercial model in order to survive in a predominantly consumer society or retain their values and continue to provide '... alternatives and alternative spaces in a culture dominated by information capitalism and media image and spectacle' (Buschman, 2003). Concerns are expressed regarding the influence of commercialism in public library services, especially around the marketing of specific brands within a public library environment. This paper focuses on public libraries in 'real world' and 'virtual' communities and addresses pertinent issues related to their place in 21st century society. The paper considers the important issue of the impartiality of the public space occupied by the library and whether this role is in danger due to commercial influences. As such it offers value for theorists and practitioners involved in library and information science, as well as those interested in public services and the impact of consumerism.