Workshop on Public Libraries and the Contemporary City

From November 11 until 14, 2014 an international workshop of the Network on Libraries in Urban Space will take place at HTW Chur/Switzerland.

The International Exploratory Workshop will deal with questions concerning Public Libraries and the contemporary city. It will treat questions from the fields of library and information science, architecture as well as sociology in an interdisciplinary manner.

This workshop is funded by the Swiss National Science Foundation (SNF). The number of participants is limited. Researchers in the field of Public Libraries and Urban Space can apply for participation – not only to the workshop but also to the Network NLUS. Please contact us using the contact form.

In recent years different fields became concerned with libraries in the city. City planning and architecture recognized libraries as public buildings which can change the face and inner workings of contemporary cities. All around the world, new and architectural exciting libraries are built to change the direction of development of cities, to revitalize cities and to create new urban spaces. At the same time public libraries have come again into the scope of sociological questions concerning the building and maintaining of social capital. For example Robert D. Putnam et al. chose Chicagos Public Libraries as example in their book about organisations that build social capital in the USA. (Putnam, Feldstein & Cohen 2003) Likewise library and information science started to question the common expectations about the usage of the library as a place or of the space within a library. Not only did the forms of media which are used in the libraries change, but so did the actual usage of libraries in the context of digitization and virtualization of information, too. Today libraries understand themselves as social sites, promoting not only reading, but learning, communication, building, and maintaining of communities, social life, and other things all at once (library as a “third place”).

Although questions concerning these changes are raised in different fields, rarely they are joined together. We deem it necessary to cross those different fields, because all of them can gain important insights from the research and more importantly the specific views on the topic of urban development of the other fields. We also expect a deeper understanding of the overall questions about libraries in the urban space by combining researchers of the aforementioned research fields. For example architectural research understands change in urban space as an outcome of new buildings whereas sociology understands it as an effect of social connections, when at the same time library and information science is more concerned with library programming and the usage of space within the library. This also translates to the space that is investigated. Library and Information Science is particularly interested in the space inside the library, architecture is concerned with the space around the building and sociology with the community around the library building.

Currently research in the field of libraries and cities is carried out separately in different fields. For instance a team at the Royal School of Library and Information Science in København produced research on the planning and usage of space in the public library, whereas they divided the space in public libraries into four separate areas with different functions. (Jochumsen, Rasmussen & Skot-Hansen, 2012) Still, they don’t mention the building and function of the building, as architects would do, but concentrated on questions of library function and interactions between library space, staff and users. In the same manner, Johnson (2010) in his sociological investigation of the production of social capital through public libraries, gives important insights into this question, but does not tackle questions of the actual library programming.

Up until now little effort was taken to bring together researchers from the different fields that are interested in public libraries. The workshop should try to built a network that brings together such researchers and help to foster joint research. A first step was undertaken when in 2013 a joint research project on public libraries and urban change by partners in Switzerland, Belgium, the Netherlands, Denmark, and Germany was filed with the EU commission in the context of the JPI Urban Europe. Although the project was declined in the end, the collaborative effort showed an immense interest in those questions. The workshop should take this momentum and help foster joined research projects.


Jochumsen, Henrik ; Rasmussen, Casper Hvenegaard ; Skot-Hansen, Dorte (2012) / The four spaces – a new model for the public library. In: New Library World 113 (2012) 11/12, 586-597

Johnson, Catherine A. (2010) / Do Public Libraries Contribute to Social Capital? A Preliminary Investigation into the Relationship. In: Library & Information Science Research 32 (2010) 2, 147-155

Putnam, Robert D. ; Feldstein, Lewis M. ; Cohen, Don (2003) / Better together : restoring the American community. New York, 2003

Karsten Schuldt/Rudolf Mumenthaler

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