Reflection Post 3: Public Libraries


I believe public libraries should move away from being ‘houses of knowledge’ and move more towards being ‘houses of access.’

-Kathryn Zickuhr (2014)

For the Hyperlinked Environments module, I chose to focus on public libraries, but I did also look at some of the other types as well. Mostly, I found myself interested in how public libraries are representing themselves to users, the community, and local governments. It seems we are continuously trying to raise awareness about what libraries do and the services provided. Many people aren’t aware of the wide range of things that libraries do, or they still consider them to be book warehouses. This is an issue I have come across in many of my classes as well as at my work or when I tell people what I do for a living. I find myself having a lot of conversations advocating for libraries, and people often surprised that the libraries offers more than books. With limited (and sometimes reduced) resources, budget, and staff, how do libraries continue providing the same level of service while increasing awareness in the community? That surely is a tricky balancing act that I face.

I liked how Kathryn Zickuhr (2014) mentioned that librarians are seeing libraries move towards being houses of access as that is what the public is asking for. Physical books are wonderful, and I certainly don’t think they should be eliminated from libraries. However, I have found that some people have an aversion to recognizing that the library is indeed books and more. When I mention various activities the library does or how we could use more space for people to gather, some people agree but hesitate and say ‘as long as you still have books!’ or ‘but libraries need space for books!’ as if I meant we no longer need books. Zickuhr (2014) noted that computer access has been one of the most popular services that libraries provide, which I have found to be true as well. However, I often hear people complain that libraries have turned into computer labs or they disapprove of others who spend so much time on the computers. I don’t think people always realize the multitude of activities there are and benefits that come from having computer access for the public.

I also enjoyed how Jakob Guillois Laerkes (2016) described the four overlapping spaces of the public library: the inspiration space, the learning space, the meeting space, and the performative space. I think this highlights the complexity of libraries and allows for the inclusion of people who learn differently or are looking for various kinds of activities. Libraries want to serve as many people as possible by offering something for everyone, rather than only offering the same thing for everyone. By engaging people in different ways, libraries are advocating for how important and relevant they still are. Programs and events are some obvious ways to promote libraries as ‘houses of access’ but as technology advances and the needs of the public change, I imagine there will be many opportunities for libraries to engage with people through more participatory methods.





Laerkes, J.G. (2016). The four spaces of the public library.

Zickuhr, K. (2014). Public libraries and technology: From ‘houses of knowledge’ to ‘houses of access.’

  1. I appreciate your line of thought here. I have heard similar comments about “space for books” – most recently here in Michigan and one of the local libraries. An expansion is in the works, and people are worried that having a Community Room is wasted space…when libraries should be about books. I actually met with their planning group and discussed the four space model.

  2. Michelle, I love reading posts like yours and just hearing about how much libraries are changing. I understand people’s worry about “the books”. Books have a lot of cultural meaning and are so strongly associated with libraries. People who aren’t “close to” libraries can’t see how they’ve been adapting to provide knowledge in many different forms (including books).
    I looked up the word library, and most of you probably know this, but it was news for me, it does come from the word “books” (liber in Latin). It’s hard to broaden that model. Maybe libraries need to be called informaries (from the word informare, formation of the mind. . . ).

  3. I also find myself placed in the situation where I have to convince people that libraries are more than a place where you go for books, both at work and off work! Although libraries now offer more services beyond books, it’s definitely an incredibly difficult image to shake off when it comes to explaining to others why libraries are still very important and very relevant.

    I feel that this image isn’t perpetuated with the library customers alone, but library staff as well. I find this especially true in instances where shelving get removed and collections weeded to make space for new services because you’ll hear both customers and staff complain about the loss of books rather than seeing what the new service would bring to the library and its users. Because of that, it would benefit the future of libraries if we endeavor to sell the idea of libraries being more than books to library staff as well.

  4. Hi Michelle,
    I enjoyed reading your post! I liked the quote you chose by Zickuhr as well. It’s hard for some people to get around the idea that not everyone has home access to internet and other technologies. Smart phones are so prevalent now that people just assume that all technological needs are met in that one device. However, paying for cellular network is another hurdle that people with devices have to overcome. It is so true that people do not know about all the resources available to them at their local public library.

    One time, I was trying to explain to my hair stylist what librarians do now. She had asked me, somewhat bewildered, why I chose the library profession when “books are going extinct.” I admit that I was very stream-of-consciousness about it in my description, but I could see her eyes glaze over. If only there was a way to express the library in an exciting way that would hold people’s attention. Overall, I think all libraries need a makeover. I think that separate makerspaces and learning commons are sorely needed in public libraries today.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *