Naji, Safaa (2018) An ethnographic case study of the role of public libraries in facilitating lifelong learning activities in the North of England. Doctoral thesis, University of Huddersfield.

This ethnographic study examines the role of public libraries in supporting lifelong learning (LLL) activities. It was undertaken in a library in the North of England. This study adopted the community of practice (CoP) as a conceptual framework to highlight the importance of the public library as a lifelong learning institution and to explore the significance of the knowledge and skills that are developed through social interaction with learners (users of the library) and librarians and the effects of that on users’ learning and identity. Fieldwork was conducted in the library during a period of nine months. Participant observation and unstructured interviews with 11 librarians, semi-structured interviews with 48 users, along with documentary analysis, were used to generate qualitative data on the library as a lifelong learning institution and the role of librarians in supporting lifelong learning activities.

The findings reveal the potential for the public library to be a lifelong learning institution which are: the stimulating learning environment of the library; diversity in the library; a variety of learning resources and accessible facilities as well as cooperation with other organisations in the community. The findings also suggest that the library has integrated social, economic and educational effects on both individuals and communities. The library offers equal and free learning opportunities for everyone, regardless of their background, which provides learners with on-going skills. In this sense, the library is considered as key to unlocking inequality. The findings reveal that the library achieves social justice, fosters social cohesion and prevents social isolation. In addition, the public library plays a vital role in promoting individuals’ health and well-being through bibliotherapy sessions. The findings also show that the library constructs learners’ identities as they become confident, independent learners, critical thinkers and active citizens.

On an economic level, the library has a direct and indirect economic impact on individuals, as well as on the whole community. The direct role has been demonstrated by saving users money and supporting people to find jobs as well as starting up their own businesses. Its indirect role is demonstrated though saving money for the public Exchequer, such as the NHS. However, the library faces challenges which affect the quality of delivering those services such as funding cuts, leading to the closure of library buildings, lack of public perception of the library’s value and misunderstanding the rules by the users. The study also highlights that the librarians play a significant role in supporting lifelong learning activities. The librarians deliver the learning sessions as proficient teachers. They also support library users by guiding them to access the valuable information resources and learning sessions which meet their needs. This study shows that there are criteria for librarians to be able to support LLL activities. However, the data indicates that the librarians face challenges such as replacing them with volunteers to run the library services. In addition, there is a lack of public awareness about their significant role in the community.

Safaa Naji FINAL THESIS.PDF - Accepted Version
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