Public Libraries and the geographies of knowledge

Public Libraries and the geographies of knowledge

Jo Norcup (Geography Workshop / University of Glasgow)

Work on the geographies of knowledge has focused on a number of different spaces and institutions such as the laboratory and the field. While geographers have paid increased attention in recent years to geographies of the book (Keighren 2010, Ogborn and Withers 2010, Keighren, Withers and Bell, 2015) the archive (Gagen et al 200, Lorimer 2010, Mills, 2013) and private / members institutional library collections (Craggs 2008; Driver 2013) there remains a notable gap concerning the geographies of knowledge associated with public libraries: libraries and local archives and special collections bequeathed or given under statute for the free lending and provision of books, music and other cultural resources for the enrichment of the local community in its fullest conception. While British public libraries have a deep and rich cultural and political history (Kelly, 1977; Black and Hoare 2006), contemporaneous pressures on local authority budgets by central government as part of a wider campaign of ‘austerity’ have seen over a thousand public libraries become ‘divested’ from public control to a range of voluntary, charitable and business led initiatives, while others have closed or been reconfigured in other premises (Smith 2015). The histories and geographies of knowledge shaped by the public library are therefore a topic of acute contemporary relevance.

This session invites papers covering any time period and geographical location, although there is particular interest in papers attending to  the cultural and historical geographies of public libraries since 1939.

Topics may include, but are not limited to the following:

  • Libraries in city, country and suburbia
  • The geographical organisation of the library system
  • The role and status of the public librarian
  • Libraries and codes of conduct (including sonic conduct)
  • Public libraries as spaces of education
  • Public libraries and community engagement
  • Public libraries and civic/vernacular geographies
  • Public libraries, local authority museums and archiving the local
  • Geographical imaginations cultivated by the public library
  • Citizenship and public libraries
  • Mobile libraries and their geographies of knowledge

Black, A. And Hoare, P. (2006) The Cambridge History of Libraries in Britain and Ireland. Volume iii, 1850 – 2000.Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.

Craggs, R (2008) Situating the imperial archive: the Royal Empire Society Library, 1868 – 1945. Journal of Historical Geography 34(1) 48 – 67.

Driver, F (2013) Hidden histories made visible? Reflections on a geographical exhibition. TIBG 38(3) 420-435.

Gagen, E. Lorimer, H. And Vasudevan, A. (2007) Practising the Archive: Reflections on Method and Practise in Historical Geography. HGRG. RGS-IBG.

Keighren, I. Withers, C.W.J. Bell, B (2015) Travels in Print: exploring, writing and publishing with John Murray, 1773 – 1859. University of Chicago Press.

Kelly, T (1977) History of the Public Library in Great Britain 1845 – 1975. The Library Association, London.

Lorimer, H. (2010) Caught in the Nick of Time: Archives and Fieldwork. Chapter 14 in The Sage Handbook of Qualitative Geography (ed DeLyser, D. et al) 248 – 273.

Mills, S. (2013) Cultural-Historical Geography of the Archive: Fragments, Objects and Ghosts in Geography Compass 7:10, 710 – 713.

Smith, A. (2015) Public Library and other stories. Penguin.

This is the website for the History and Philosophy of Geography Research Group (HPGRG) of the Royal Geographical Society with the Institute of British Geographers (RGS-IBG)

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