Theorizing Public Libraries as Public Spheres in Library and Information Science

  • Håkon LarsenEmail author
Conference paper
Part of the Lecture Notes in Computer Science book series (LNCS, volume 12051)


During the 21st century, library and information scholars have set out to theorize the role of public libraries as public spheres. Most of this research is engaging with Habermas’ early work on the structural transformation of the public sphere. Even though Habermas has continued to develop his theories on the public sphere and deliberative democracy throughout his carrier, library and information scholars have to a limited degree engaged with his more recent work. Simply relying on Habermas’s early work when theorizing public libraries as public spheres is limiting, but in addition to getting up to speed on Habermas’ theoretical development, library and information scholars should also familiarize themselves with a broader set of public sphere theories. In this paper, I will give a short presentation of Habermas’ work of relevance for public libraries, I will give a short presentation of some additional theories of public spheres, and I will present key concepts in studies of public libraries as public spheres within library and information science. I will conclude with some thought on how to move forward when theorizing public libraries as public spheres within library and information science.


Public sphere Public libraries Habermas Democracy Social theory 


  1. 1.
    Audunson, R., et al.: Public libraries as an infrastructure for a sustainable public sphere: a comprehensive review of research. J. Doc. 75(4), 773–790 (2019)CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. 2.
    Buschman, J.: The public sphere without democracy: some recent work in LIS. J. Doc.
  3. 3.
    Vårheim, A., Skare, R., Lenstra, N.: Examining libraries as public sphere institutions: mapping questions, methods, theories, findings, and research gaps. Libr. Inf. Sci. Res. 41(2), 93–101 (2019)CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. 4.
    Widdersheim, M.M., Koizumi, M.: Conceptual modelling of the public sphere in public libraries. J. Doc. 72(3), 591–610 (2016)CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. 5.
    Habermas, J.: Strukturwandel der Öffentlichkeit: Untersuchungen zu einer Kategorie der bürgerlichen Gesellschaft. Luchterhand, Darmstadt (1962)Google Scholar
  6. 6.
    Habermas, J.: The Structural Transformation of the Public Sphere: An Inquiry into a Category of Bourgeois Society. MIT Press, Cambridge (1989[1962])Google Scholar
  7. 7.
    Widdersheim, M.M.: Late, lost or renewed? A search for the public sphere in public libraries. Inf. Res. 22(1), CoLIS paper 1664 (2018)Google Scholar
  8. 8.
    Habermas, J.: Further reflections on the public sphere. In: Calhoun, C. (ed.) Habermas and the Public Sphere, pp. 421–461. MIT Press, Cambridge (1992)Google Scholar
  9. 9.
    Habermas, J.: Political communication in media society: does democracy still enjoy an epistemic dimension? The impact of normative theory on empirical research. Commun. Theory 16, 411–426 (2006)CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. 10.
    Habermas, J.: Between Facts and Norms. Contributions to a Discourse Theory of Law and Democracy. MIT Press, Cambridge (1996)CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. 11.
    Koizumi, M., Larsen, H.: Public libraries and democracy in the Nordic model. In: Gašo, G., Ranogajec, M.G., Žilić, J., Lundman, M. (eds.) Information and Technology Transforming Lives: Connection, Interaction, Innovation. Proceedings of the XXVII Bobcatsss Symposium, Osijek, Croatia, BOBCATSSS, pp. 452–457 (2019)Google Scholar
  12. 12.
    Audunson, R., et al.: Physical places and virtual spaces. Libraries, archives and museums in a digital age. In: Audunson, R., et al. (eds.) Libraries, Archives and Museums as Democratic Spaces in a Digital Age. De Gruyter Saur, Munich (2020)Google Scholar
  13. 13.
    Calhoun, C. (ed.): Habermas and the Public Sphere. MIT Press, Cambridge (1992)Google Scholar
  14. 14.
    Negt, O., Kluge, A.: Öffentlichkeit und Erfahrung: Zur Organisationsanalyse von bürgerlicher und proletarischer Öffentlichkeit. Suhrkamp Verlag, Frankfurt (1972)Google Scholar
  15. 15.
    Laclau, E., Mouffe, C.: Hegemony and Socialist Strategy: Towards a Radical Democratic Politics. Verso, London (1985)Google Scholar
  16. 16.
    Mouffe, C.: The Return of the Political. Verso, London (1993)Google Scholar
  17. 17.
    Mouffe, C.: On the Political. Routledge, London (2005)Google Scholar
  18. 18.
    Gripsrud, J., Moe, H., Molander, A., Murdock, G. (eds.): The Ideal of the Public Sphere. A Reader. Lexington Books, Lanham (2010)Google Scholar
  19. 19.
    Alexander, J.C.: The Civil Sphere. Oxford University Press, Oxford (2006)CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. 20.
    Alexander, J.C.: The Meanings of Social Life: A Cultural Sociology. Oxford University Press, New York (2003)CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. 21.
    Townsley, E.: Media, intellectuals, the public sphere, and the story of Barack Obama in 2008. In: Alexander, J.C., Jacobs, R.N., Smith, P. (eds.) The Oxford Handbook of Cultural Sociology, pp. 284–317. Oxford University Press, Oxford (2012)Google Scholar
  22. 22.
    Habermas, J.: The Theory of Communicative Action. The Critique of Functionalist Reason, vol. 2. Beacon Press, Boston (1987)Google Scholar
  23. 23.
    Habermas, J.: The Theory of Communicative Action. Reason and the Rationalization of Society, vol. 1. Beacon Press, Boston (1984)Google Scholar
  24. 24.
    Wiegand, W.: Part of our Lives. A People’s History of the American Public Library. Oxford University Press, Oxford (2015)Google Scholar
  25. 25.
    Johnston, J.: The use of conversation-based programming in public libraries to support integration in increasingly multiethnic societies. J. Librariansh. Inf. Sci. 50(2), 130–140 (2018)CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. 26.
    Sennett, R.: The Fall of Public Man. Norton, New York (1992[1977])Google Scholar
  27. 27.
    Sennett, R.: Quant. The Public Realm. Accessed 02 Dec 2019
  28. 28.
    Ministry of Culture: Meld. St. 8 (2018–2019) Kulturens kraft: Kulturpolitikk for framtida. Ministry of Culture, Oslo (2018)Google Scholar
  29. 29.
    Ministry of Justice and the Police: NOU 1999:27 “Ytringsfrihet bør finde Sted” Forslag til ny Grunnlov §100. Ministry of Justice and the Police, Oslo (1999)Google Scholar
  30. 30.
    Kalleberg, R.: Ytringsfrihet, demokratiteori og demokratiet som uferdig prosjekt. Sosiologi i dag 45(4), 11–37 (2015)Google Scholar
  31. 31.
    Audunson, R.: The public library as a meeting-place in a multicultural and digital context: the necessity of low-intensive meeting-places. J. Doc. 61(3), 429–441 (2005)CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. 32.
    Jochumsen, H., Rasmussen, C.H., Skot-Hansen, D.: The four spaces – a new model for the public library. New Libr. World 113(11/12), 586–597 (2012)CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. 33.
    Oldenburg, R.: The Great Good Place: Cafés, Coffee Shops, Bookstores, Bars, Hair Salons, and Other Hangouts at the Heart of a Community. Paragon House, New York (1989)Google Scholar
  34. 34.
    Klinenberg, E.: Palaces for the People. How to Build a More Equal and United Society. The Bodley Head, London (2018)Google Scholar
  35. 35.
    Larsen, H.: Archives, libraries and museums in the Nordic model of the public sphere. J. Doc. 74(1), 187–194 (2018)CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2020

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Oslo Metropolitan UniversityOsloNorway

Personalised recommendations