The public place of central libraries: findings from Toronto and Vancouver

Leckie J. Gloria and Hopkins Jeffrey

Leckie, G., & Hopkins, J. (2002). The Public Place of Central Libraries: Findings from Toronto and Vancouver. The Library Quarterly: Information, Community, Policy, 72(3), 326-372. Retrieved from

Capital Investment , Culture , Downtown Core , Public Library , Successful Public Space

The last decade has seen a relative boom in the construction of central pub lic libraries across North America. The social roles these public institutions play for society is a pressing issue in light of decreasing public funding, ad vancing information technologies, and an economy increasingly informa- tion-driven and decentralized. This article examines the public's use of two of Canada's largest central libraries, the Toronto Reference Library and the Vancouver Public Library Central Branch. The data gathered support the notion that these libraries fulfill many of the normative ideals of a successful public place and serve as important resources in the increasingly informationdriven, knowledge -based economy. We conclude that private market interests encroaching upon this institution, and not advances in information technologies, represent a threat to its multifaceted role as a successful public place.

Main finding
There are three major findings resulting from this research paper. The first one is that public libraries have remained successful public spaces despite the decentralization, urban sprawl and other phenomeneons experienced by large metropolitan centers like Toronto and Vancouver. Investments in public libraries are concluded to be sound investments in social capital. Second, central libraries are thought to be highly appreciated by the public for their large collections and their variety of subjects. According to the findings, the public seems to prefer the access to large collections rather than having smaller and more specialised libraries opening in other locations. Lastly, the author highlights the fact that libraries are experiencing an ideological shift from being a public institution to becoming "an active agent for private interests in the market economy". The slow commercialization of public spaces can fundamentally change the nature of public libraries.

Description of method used in the article

Of practical use

Organising categories

Field Observations Interviews Survey
Physical types
Geographic locations