Public libraries are a public institution. They operate under different political conditions and are consequently subject to the political vagaries in their country. Described is an International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions (Ifla) research project coordinated and managed by the principal researcher Professor Bob Usherwood. The project investigates the attitudes of governments to public libraries. This paper elaborates on a presentation at the Western Australian Local Government Librarians Association conference in March 2003. It also reports on the project and its progress
Public libraries are a product of history. Like other public institutions the public library functions within the context of different political systems. Because of this there are many different views as to its political purpose. Public libraries worldwide are funded by governments of some description. The existence of these libraries is in a political milieu which might not be altogether favourable for them. A number of studies have been carried out in recent times assessing community perceptions of the value of public libraries eg Building books and bytes, (1) Mercer (2) and Phibbs. (3) It is now time to assess the attitude of governments to them.
The aim is to provide information on national and, where possible, local or regional, governmental attitudes to public libraries in terms of their
* value for individuals and groups in society
* contribution to the democratic process
* contribution to economic development
* contribution to political priorities
This will be done through a series of in depth interviews with politicians and senior bureaucrats in a variety of government situations. Those who work in library related portfolios are targeted. However others in allied areas of responsibility will be interviewed if possible. It is also desirable to interview senior members of local professional associations to establish the relationship between them and governments.
In order to assess the topic a literature review and preliminary analysis of interviews with politicians and their public servants has been carried out. The literature review, which covered references from many global library situations, made it clear that politics and politicians …