Book Context: Palaces for the People

September 16, 2019 § 4 Comments

For my context book assignment, I chose Palaces for the People: How Social Infrastructure can help Fight Inequality, Polarization, and the Decline of Civic Life, written by Eric Klinenberg. This book has been on my to-read list for almost a year and I have checked it out many times, but never had the chance to sit down and read it. When I saw that it was an option for this assignment, I immediately grabbed my copy that was hanging out on the shelf and read it to my heart’s content. 

In his book, Klinenberg makes a statement that in order to combat inequality, crime, and disparity within neighborhoods, projects that support social infrastructure must take precedence. Social infrastructure are essentially the shared public spaces in cities and towns. These spaces can include libraries, schools, playgrounds, parks, athletic fields, swimming pools, sidewalks, courtyards, community gardens, green spaces, churches, civic associations, markets, cafes, diners, barbershops, and bookstores (Klinenberg, 2018, p. 16). Such places bring families outside of their home and out of isolation, and into the these shared public spaces. Because of the maintenance and ownership of such places, less crime can be attributed to the passive surveillance practiced by those who enjoy the space. We also tend to form stronger connections with others when we linger and share these common spaces. Stronger connections means stronger neighborhoods, even among some of the most polarized neighborhoods. 

For neighborhoods that are suffering from crime, abandoned places, and a lack of food, Klinenberg offers evidence that creating shared public spaces within the neighborhood can help reduce crime and increase health. In Engelwood, an urban neighborhood of Chicago, there is an effort to turn abandoned, empty plots into shared community gardens. For a neighborhood that is considered a food desert – that is, a neighborhood with very little places to go for groceries – creating such places was a game changer. Not only does the community gardens provide fresh food, but they also provide a space to form social connections. These connections can obviously decrease time in isolation, which can be dangerous in a time of crisis. According to Klinenberg, “ a large body of scientific research now shows, social isolation and loneliness can be as dangerous as more publicized health hazards, including obesity and smoking” (Klinenberg, 2018, p. 23). In other words, social infrastructure helps people become and stay physically and mentally healthy.

For librarians, this means that we need to embrace our libraries as the third places they are. As we know, libraries are “among the most critical forms of social infrastructure” and “the most undervalued” (Klinenberg, 2018 p. 32). This means that we need to advocate and record evidence that our programs and spaces are being used by the neighborhood. We need to bring research and literature to the table to support our advocacy, and we need to become involved within our communities to create stronger support. We also need to give our users a chance to develop ownership, so that they may advocate for more funding for their libraries. In addition to support, we can also be part of other local programs that develop more of these shared spaces. We can be present in the community and get our hands dirty in creating these shares spaces. Being seen in the greater community and creating these spaces can help us form stronger connections to our users and other local organizations. All of this can help librarians bring more people, more organizations, and more funding to the library itself. We just need to remind people that we are the ultimate of shared, public, free spaces.


Klineneberg, E. (2018). Palaces for the people: How social infrastructure can help fight inequality, polarization, and the decline of civic life. New York, NY: Crown.


Goodreads. (n.d.). Palaces for the people: Cover. Retrieved from

§ 4 Responses to Book Context: Palaces for the People

  • Britt Liukkonen says:

    Hi Josie!

    I also read Palaces for the People and loved it! I agree, by being more active in the community and being a part of other local programs, libraries can become more visible which will lead to more advocacy for the library!

  • Christine Barone says:

    Hi Josephine,

    This book sounds really interesting! I’m going to have to add this to my Goodeads list.

    I was especially intrigued by the assertion that “creating shared public spaces within the neighborhood can help reduce crime and increase health.” I was reminded of reading I’ve done outside of class that discussed how art and art programs can help youth at risk find creative outlets and forms of expression. Having somewhere to go and create art everyday after school helped keep them out of gangs. There is clearly something healing in coming together as a community to create: a garden, a community space, or a place to do art (or music).

  • Michelle Sutor says:

    I’m putting this on my list to read as well. I whole heartedly agree that libraries must enhance their social programs, creating outreach programs that take the library out of the building.

  • Nikki says:

    I’ve just started reading this book. I think it really speaks to why libraries are so important in the 21st century. I had read BiblioTECH- Why Libraries Matter More Than Ever in the Age of Google for our context book assignment but I feel like that author completely skipped over the arguments that Klinenberg makes for these public spaces.
    Thanks for your summary and analysis!

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