Libraries and Social Class

Below are some excerpts from a interesting article from John Pateman on Social Class and libraries – see

“Public libraries must be transformed from provider-led agencies of social control (their historical role) into community-led agencies of social change (which can identify, prioritize and meet community needs).”

“In order to identify needs, libraries must go much further than passive consultation and actively engage and involve all sections of the local community in the planning, design, delivery and evaluation of library services. The community is an expert in its needs. The library worker becomes an enabler, facilitator and co-producer of library services with the community. This requires a number of fundamental shifts in attitudes, behaviours and values.”



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4 responses to “Libraries and Social Class

  1. Beth Lewitzky

    This sounds fine but are you really so sure that the public knows what it needs? That anyone really knows what they need in what is (allegedly) an increasingly siloed thinking environment where immediate gratification is paramount? Do libraries have to be all things to all people? Do they have to fill all holes in a frayed safety net, educational, political and otherwise?

    On Tue, Nov 18, 2014 at 9:29 AM, Social Justice Librarian wrote:

    > willimen posted: “Below are some excerpts from a interesting article > from John Pateman on Social Class and libraries – see > “Public libraries must be transformed > from provider-led agencies of social control (their historical role) into > com”

  2. willimen

    Those are great questions Beth. Needs are complex and ever changing, but in a rapidly changing information environment, it is highly irresponsible of any library system to not strive to provide programs and services that in part align with community need (and not just those of ‘traditional’ library users). There are many different resources which have been developed over the past 10 years ( which can assist librarians to get to the root needs of various communities. However, this needs to be prefaced that librarians must be willing to spend the time and effort to read, discuss and apply these and other approaches within their own library and community contexts.

    As for the role of libraries filling the holes of a crumbling social safety net – I guess I would not expect for profit organizations to fill gaps.. and if they did, I am not sure a vast majority of community members would be able to afford them? Yes, publicly funded libraries should fill some of the holes, or as an information centre for community, at a minimum, know how to link community members to relevant community resources (regardless of their social class).

  3. Beth

    Thank you so much for your thoughtful responses (which I just saw now, 1/23/15!). There is certainly room for debate on these issues and I believe that public librarians must work to fulfill community needs that are non-traditional to the extent that they are able. I worry about how, however, and often with few resources, funding and staff. I do see the need to emphasize our role as facilitators of whatever it is that our patrons (and not-yet patrons) need, particularly as far as education is concerned. We can provide forums for discussion and development of all kinds of grass-roots activity, we can and should go into our communities and connect folks with what resources we can that will encourage individual and community progress. And social class is important because if we are to be the great equalizer, the “people’s university,” we must reach those who are most in need. But in considering Maslow’s hierarchy of need, I’m not sure how we can be particularly effective with the neediest who may require that their most basic physiological needs be filled prior to higher order, intellectual needs. We can help connect/facilitate these basic needs, but I think it’s a stretch for libraries/librarians to be able to fulfill that kind of function directly. We would have to become much more than what most of us are able to be now, even if we want to solve those problems (which I hope most of us do).

  4. Ngozi Perpetua Osuchukwu

    Connecting with the communities are not the roles of public libraries only. Every type of library is situated in a community whether urban or local. Even the virtual libraries get their server and domain from some locations. Thus, every library and librarians in every sector must leave the comfort of his/her office to reach out and connect with the host communities. What stops an academic library situated in a community form identifying with the stakeholders and community based groups in that community? Even if a public library is there, they can collaborate in getting along fine with the people who allowed them use their space for operations. Until libraries and librarians stop apportioning blames on whose responsibility it is to serve a certain group, they will continue to be unpopular to certain groups and this is bad image for the profession.

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