January 16, 2022

Conference Paper: “Public Libraries are Safe (and Neutral Spaces)…When People Aren’t In Them!”

The following paper will be presented at the IFLA (International Federation of Library Associations ) WLIC 2018 in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia at the end of August.


Public Libraries are Safe (and Neutral Spaces)…When People Aren’t In Them!


Leonee Ariel Derr
Malvern Library, Stonnington Library and Information Service, Melbourne, Australia




The libraries “of old” – mostly quiet, staid and occupied by sincere researchers and readers- have transitioned into the public libraries we know today: a seemingly paradoxical experience of quiet reading, study, and shared work adjacent to sound-filled, diverse spaces full of song, activity, and machine play. Ostensibly, everyone is welcome. It is also a space where the full spectrum of antisocial behaviour coexists.

To acknowledge the evolution of libraries “of old” to how public libraries look, act, and behave today, is to address the evolution of how people engage in these spaces, with information, each other, and their communities. It is also to recognise and challenge the parochial assumptions aligned with an anachronistic understanding of libraries as “safe” or “neutral” spaces and offer alternatives- such as choosing to integrate language that sets a more accurate definition of contemporary library practice.

Responding to the notion of public library as a safe space, this paper will first reflect on the term “safe”, and thus “neutral”, when describing inner-city public libraries and librarianship as well as the risks involved when these words are inaccurately cast in a contemporary context. Within the frame of an alternate language, this paper will demonstrate the notion of the public library as a refuge in inner-city life rather than a sanctuary.

Direct to Full Text Paper
 15 pages; PDF.

About Gary Price

Gary Price (gprice@mediasourceinc.com) is a librarian, writer, consultant, and frequent conference speaker based in the Washington D.C. metro area. Before launching INFOdocket, Price and Shirl Kennedy were the founders and senior editors at ResourceShelf and DocuTicker for 10 years. From 2006-2009 he was Director of Online Information Services at Ask.com, and is currently a contributing editor at Search Engine Land.