Conference “World in Denmark”, 12-13 June 2014

Nathalie Vallet will have a paper on “Public libraries in transformation. The impact of local strategic management agendas on cultural mind-setting” at the conference World in Denmark. Nordic Encounters: Travelling Ideas of Open Space Design and Planning in Copenhagen 12 – 13 June 2014. There will also be some other members of our network. So if you would like to meet them, don’t hesitate to contact Nathalie Vallet at the conference!


This paper is focused on the influence of the so-called strategic management agenda or rationale of Flemish local governments on the role (i.e. concept, design, and (re)construction) of public libraries in cities. This focus relates to the important historic role that European public libraries have fulfilled since the Enlightenment and the Industrial Revolution, in educating, cultivating, emancipating and empowering especially “new” citizens (e.g. women, children, workers, middle and lower classes) (Lerner, 1998; Kostagiolas et al. 2009, Jochumsen H. et al., 2012). Many public policy makers as well as academics recognize the need to adapt or reconsider this role in our present – profoundly changing – urban society. Their main concern is: how has this role changed over time and which strategic challenges, paradoxes and conflicts do there exist in our nowadays urban society?

Although there exists a lot of scientific research and literature on public strategic management (Bryson, 2004; Williams and Lewis, 2008; Lane and Wallis, 2009), models on the role of public libraries within strategic governance frameworks are scarce if not lacking. This is also the case within the discipline of library science where strategic management and planning are gradually becoming well-known concepts and instruments (Masson, 1999; Matthews, 2005; Pacios, 2007; Zhixian, 2008; Kostagiolas et al. 2009).Thus, formulating an answer to the previously mentioned main concern implies a research design clearly explorative in nature. Therefore the use of a qualitative case-study research method is appropriate. Considering an additional goal to develop a kind of descriptive theory on alternative roles for public libraries, we chose for the particular qualitative research method of Grounded Theory (Glaser and Strauss, 1967; Strauss and Corbin, 1994; Charmaz, 2006).

Our explorative research activities are situated in Flanders and try to answer a threefold explorative research question: what are (1) the shifting strategic management priorities (i.e. content of the agenda) as well as (2) the shifting strategic planning procedures (i.e. process behind the agenda) of Flemish local governments, and (3) how do they influence the local cultural mind-setting and thus the (new ?!) strategic role of public libraries in cities (i.e. concept, design and (re)construction)? This research question led to the realization of 2 successive research projects. The first research project was realized in 2010 and consisted of 5 case-studies realized in mainly big Flemish cities amongst which Antwerp, Ghent, Genk, Ostend and Roeselare. Here the focus was mainly on exploring the central concept of sub-question (3), being (new ?!) strategic roles of public libraries. The research results led to the inductive identification of 1 generic and 3 so-called specific strategic roles for public libraries: the role as an “urban landmark”, an “area-oriented herald” and a “target group patron” (Vallet, 2012; Vallet, 2013). The second research project has started in 2013 and consists of 10 case-studies realized in mainly smaller and medium sized Flemish cities, such as for example Kortrijk, Sint-Niklaas, Geel, Dendermonde, Balen and Maaseik. The results of the second research project (i) fine-tuned the previously detected strategic roles for public libraries and (ii) made profound analyses of the local strategic agendas and planning procedures involved. Thus, the focus of the second research project is on sub-question (1) and (2) and on the relationship with the strategic roles of public libraries as mentioned/suggested in sub-question (3).

Presently we want to continue our exploration in a (i) geographically more “enlarged” European setting and in a (ii) more multi-disciplinary way involving also colleagues of architectural design and urban planning (i.e. see also our European research platform “under construction” ).


Bryson, J.M. (2004) Strategic Planning for Public and Non profit Organizations: A Guide to Strenghtening and Sustaining Organizational Achievement, Jossey-Bass, San Fransisco;

Charmaz, K. (2006) Constructing Grounded Theory: A Practical Guide Through Qualitative Analysis, Sage, London.

Glaser, B.G. and Strauss, A.L. (1967) The Discovery of Grounded Theory: Strategies for Qualitative Research, Aldine De Gruyter, New York.

Jochumsen H., Skot-Hansen D., and Hvenegaard Rasmussen C. (2012) The four spaces: a new model for the public library, New Library World. 113 (11/12), 587-597.

Kostagiolas, P.A., Banou, C. and Laskari, E.A. (2009) Strategic planning and management for the public libraries. The case of Greek central public libraries, Library Management, 30(4/5), 253-65.

Lane, J. and Wallis,J. (2009) Strategic Management and Public Leadership, Public Management Review, 11(1), 101-120.

Lerner, F. (1998) The Story of Libraries from the Invention of Writing to the Computer Age, Continuum, New York and London.

Masson, M.G. (1999) Strategic Management for today’s libraries, American Library Association , Chicago Il .

Matthews, J.R. (2005) Strategic planning and management for library managers, Greenwood Publishing Group, Westport, CT.

Pacios, A.R. (2007) The priorities of public libraries at the onset of the third millennium, Library Management, 28(6/7) , 416-27.

Strauss, A.L. and Corbin, J. (1994) Basics of Qualitative Research. Grounded Theory Procedures and Techniques, Sage, London.

Vallet, N. (2012) Informational cities and city innovation : (re)defining the strategic footprint of public libraries, City of Flow Conference, 12-14 July 2012 Potsdam (Germany) – Potsdam, , 2012, pp.23

***Vallet, N. (2013) Becoming partners in urban development. A case-study research on the strategic roles of Flemish and Dutch public libraries in the future development of cities, Library Management, 34(8/9), 650-663

Williams, W. and Lewis, D. (2008) Strategic Management Tools and Public Sector Management, Public Management Review, 10(5), 653-671.

Zhixian,Y. (2008) Knowledge management for library strategic planning. Perceptions of applications and benefits, Library Management, 29(3), 229-40.

*** This publication was recently rewarded as most outstanding paper 2013 by Emerald – the Alexander Wilson Award, link


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