The Life of the Space: Evidence from Nova Scotia Public Libraries

Francine May, Fiona Black


Objectives – To describe aspects of the 21st century role of the public library as a physical space by observing the actual use of a selection of public libraries. This study seeks to reveal how patrons are using and experiencing these institutions as spaces and how patrons and staff characterize the role of public libraries in communities.

Methods – A multiple case study design was used to examine three urban and three small town public libraries within Nova Scotia, Canada. A triangulated set of methods including patron interviews and questionnaires, staff interviews, and seating sweeps was used to develop answers to the research questions.

Results – These public libraries are functioning as successful public places in that they are community spaces used in a multitude of ways and where patrons feel welcome. These libraries play important roles in the lives of respondents and, while respondents were willing to give critical feedback, they generally described the spaces positively. Patron use and experience of these library spaces can be broken into three themes that describe the roles of public libraries in communities. These include the role of provider of books and information, provider of access to technology and provider of a social space where members of the public are welcome.

Conclusions – Patron experiences in Nova Scotia public libraries show that libraries are vibrant places that are highly valued by their communities. A number of common themes about the use and perception of these spaces emerged, yet when examined individually each library was also revealed to be a unique place, reflecting the particular qualities of the community and the physical space of the library building itself. It is clear that public libraries are complex institutions which play a variety of valuable roles in the community.


public place; public libraries; library use studies; nova scotia; canada

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