“The War for the Imagination” : Author Representations of the UK Public Library Service in an Age of Austerity
Abstract: This study explores author texts on public libraries in the United Kingdom between the years 2010 and 2018. The texts appear in a national public debate about the value, purpose and direction of the library service following a significant number of library closures and funding cuts. These were the result of the global financial crisis of 2007 and 2008 and the subsequent implementation of the austerity programme by the Conservative-Liberal Democratic coalition government that came into power in 2010. The term author texts refer to a variety of written materials such as opinion pieces, anthologies, memoirs, novels, short stories, poetry and picture books that provide a commentary on these events. Combining field theory with a thematic reading of the author texts, the study focuses on the struggle over how the public library service should be represented and defended as an institution and an idea in an age of austerity. The examination is conducted through situating the author texts within a five-space model that divides the library into dimensions of inspiration, performativity, meeting and learning, to which the librarian has been added as an inter-dimension. The study shows that the author representations are closely connected to the historic identity of the public library as a cultural institution and a public service.
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