Libraries as redistributive technology: From capacity to culture in Queensland’s public library network.

Wyatt, D., Mcquire, S., & Butt, D.

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Wyatt, D., Mcquire, S., & Butt, D. (2017). Libraries as redistributive technology: From capacity to culture in Queensland’s public library network. New Media & Society, 1461444817738235.

Australia , Digital Culture , Digital Media , Libraries , National Broadband Network , Participation , Public Culture , Public Sphere , Technology

Australia is currently rolling out one of the most expensive and ambitious infrastructure projects in the nation’s history. The National Broadband Network is promoted as a catalyst for far-reaching changes in Australia’s economy, governmental service provision, society and culture. However, it is evident that desired dividends, such as greater social engagement, enhanced cultural awareness and increased civic and political participation, do not flow automatically from mere technical connection to the network. This article argues that public institutions play a vital role in redistributing technological capacity to enable emerging forms of social and cultural participation. In particular, we examine public libraries as significant but often overlooked sites in the evolving dynamic between digital technology, new cultural practices and social relations. Drawing on interviews and fieldwork across the public library network of the state of Queensland, we attend to the strategies and approaches libraries are adopting in response to a digital culture.

Main finding
As internet connectivity expands at rapid pace, internet access still remains non-universal. Simultaneously, the design and programming of libraries is transforming in this context. This study examines libraries in Australia, and the authors argue that they function as vital public spaces in the age of information technology, and as sites of emerging cultural practices and social relations. Libraries increasingly provide digital technologies and infrastructure, and in doing so function as physical hubs that provide access to resources, and a context for bridges between social groups and organizations. Still, libraries can not be unquestionably associated with Habermas' notion of the public sphere, because they are increasingly tailoring strategies and programming for more specific audiences.

Description of method used in the article
Review of academic and professional literature in the fields of information and technology studies, ethnographic field work (site observations) at 10 libraries, and semi-structured interviews (N = 5) with library staff in the library network of Queensland, Australia. Interviews took place at employees' workplaces, and focused on library technological infrastructure in relation to design and programing, as well as the changing priorities and roles of libraries in relation to digital technologies.

Of some practical use if combined with other research

Organising categories

Digital Device Engagement
Field Observations Interviews Meta-analysis
Physical types
Geographic locations