Public Libraries and Private Sector Partnerships:
Possibilities, Problems and the Democratic Role of Libraries


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1. Introduction

2. The rise of the private sector

3. Decrease in funding to public libraries

4. Public libraries and private sector partnerships

5. Support for partnerships

6. Criticisms of partnerships

7. Conclusion

Works cited

Search Strategy


Search Strategy

Since this essay question implied that public libraries are not isolated institutions, but considered as part of the whole realm of public institutions that have been affected by cutbacks and privatization, this topic therefore had a very broad scope, requiring a substantial depth and amount of material as well as a search strategy to match that scope.

I began my search strategy by considering the different terms and concepts that could be used to find material on this topic. Since I have a background in political science and am familiar with some of the concepts related to public institutions, I did not consult with indexes or thesauri to help me with this consideration; if this had been a topic where I had no prior experience or interest, I would have needed to take a more structured approach to my initial search strategy.

I began my search by looking at the University of Alberta Libraries' online catalogue and entering "public institution" or "corporate sponsor?" in the keyword search area. This yielded a small amount of records, so over a number of subsequent searches, I expanded my strategy by using different combinations of keywords, such as "public sphere", "private sector", "privatization", "government aid", "fund raising", "funding" as well as "public libraries". I also looked at the different subject headings and the material that they covered. I made several lists of materials to look at based on the results of these combination searches, the material found in specific subject headings, and their currency: they would need to be published from the early 1990s onwards since the effect of privatization on public institutions and public libraries has been a fairly recent development. In looking for these items at the library, I found books on shelves nearby that turned out to be useful for my paper. I chose books for use in the literature review based on the fact that I needed to cover both sides of this issue, that partnerships are beneficial to some in the library field, and detrimental according to others. Therefore, I chose material that offered thoughtful arguments on either side of the issue. During my catalogue search, I also found material that linked public libraries with democracy; I chose to look at this material and use some of it as public institutions themselves have been important aspects of democratic nations and I thought it would be interesting to make that link with public libraries. This material contributed greatly to my discussion of the issues at the end of the paper. As part of this paper revolved around changes to the role of public institutions, I needed material that discussed these changes, but not necessarily in relation to public libraries: the material that I chose included material based on the effects in Canada, the United States and the United Kingdom in order to get a broad account of these changes. It was interesting that several of the library-related books that I found drew this connection between privatization, public institutions and public libraries. I also needed material that directly showed the reality of funding cuts and corporate partnerships for public libraries. This material was hard to find in the book catalogue, so I started a search in various online databases.

I looked at the Library Literature & Information Science Full Text database, in order to find material directly related to public libraries, funding cuts and corporate partnerships. The search that yielded strong results was (private or corporate) and (partner* or sponsor*) and public. I looked for peer-reviewed articles, but also found some non-peer-reviewed articles that I found relevant, since they posed excellent questions and offered a good perspective on the topic. I also looked at the FirstSearch system at SLIS as well as the Academic Search Premier database through the University's library website. I performed many searches with these databases, using different combinations of search terms, much like with the catalogue search. Finding journals that were available in the library stacks was difficult, so I needed to find journals that were available online. The articles that I decided to look at and to use for my literature review - the detailed abstracts attached to records in most databases are very helpful in showing a record's relevance and cuts down on the amount of time needed determine the usefulness of a record - offered the different positions on this topic, were current (from the mid-1990s), and related to actual occurrences of private sector partnerships.

I found a discussion with my professor for this class (Dr. Anna Altmann) to be very beneficial. I came to this topic with an interest in linking public libraries to theories of public space and the connected effects of privatization, but unclear of how this connection might be made. She mentioned two authors in relation to public space theory that I had not, till that point, considered, these being John Ralston Saul and Jane Jacobs. I was able to use Saul's writing in my paper, but could not incorporate the urban theory of Jacobs, as the scope of my paper would have grown too large for the required length. At the end of my paper, I suggested that further research in the area of the privatization of public space, and the effects on libraries, is required; I hope to investigate this area further and to use Jacobs in that endeavour.

Overall, I found that the actual researching of this paper was difficult to end; therefore, finding the most relevant literature was a crucial process in narrowing down the search and getting to the heart of the topic.


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This website was created for the purposes of LIS 600 by Carol Friesen in 2004, while studying at the School of Library and Information Studies, University of Alberta. Last update April 2004.