The digital era has brought considerable challenges to the further evolution of public libraries as sources of information. At the same time, these challenges should not be treated as threats, but rather turned into opportunities of rethinking the function of libraries. Their place in a society should escape a conservative view of the library. The extensive literature on the topic argues that libraries have significant positive effects on society. Despite the digitization of information and learning, public libraries maintain their powerful influence on increasing the levels of literacy. Being a public institution, they have a tremendous potential in bringing access to scholarly and educational activities while remaining the tool of socialization and an element of larger urban space.
In the following literature review, the synthesis will focus on exploring one specific role of public libraries – the realization of their potential to boost literacy. This review is neither limited to any particular geographic scope nor to social audiences of public libraries. The assessed works do not present significant differences as to their findings and conclusions in connection with the positive influence of libraries on promoting education and creating opportunities of increasing literacy. Nevertheless, different articles reveal the complexity of various tools and strategies that can be employed to achieve educational objectives.

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Public libraries can appeal to all age and social groups. This premise is fundamental to the Gerner Nielson’s paper on the role of libraries in lifelong learning: the articles finds that these institutions have three most significant tools: information resources, self-directed learning, and the librarian’s ability to facilitate learning. In this context, Alphin presents an interesting assessment of how the smart use of technology is a facilitator for all three segments. She focuses the study on a specific age group – teens – but her findings largely resonate with Balina who zooms out her analysis to the context of information society. Libraries are an integral part of improving the development of e-learning and e-services. (Balina) Although some studies focus on particular countries: Denmark (Gerner Nielson), Latvia (Balina), Kenya (Nzivo), or Canada (Lai), their conclusions as to the noteworthy place of public libraries for learning remain quite similar.

Some studies emphasize the multi-level nature of the libraries’ positive effects on satisfying learning needs. (Akanwa) Their impact goes beyond traditional provision of information materials to enable the development of reading skills, cultural knowledge, and inculcation of the skills of “acquiry”. Akanwa’s paper makes a special emphasis on the exceptional role of such public institutions for children in rural areas.

Many studies choose to follow the approach of focusing on an increasingly popular library service – summer reading programs – to demonstrate their institutional capacity. (Bogel) Literature also exists on the issues, which appear less often in a public narrative. For example, the relevance of libraries for adults and increasing their literacy is also addressed in the recent scholarly research. (Anderson, Barblett, Barratt-Pugh, Haig, and Leitão)

Literature reveals several widespread challenges in regard to engaging libraries in education processes. Firstly, there is still a lack of meaningful partnerships between public libraries and schools, which downplays the potential of libraries in augmenting school resources. (Bogel) Secondly, the typical challenge in revitalizing the conservative image of reading resources lies in ineffective use of the investment in boosting electronic resources. (Nzivo) Thirdly, librarians often lack pedagogical competences despite their readiness to acquire them. Consequently, the function of learning facilitation can suffer even when an elaborate electronic system is fully operational. (Gerner Nielsen) Finally, it should not be overlooked that the society’s ability to make a meaningful use of public learning resources is often limited by the general level of e-literacy and economic development as a whole. (Balina, Nzivo, Akanwa, Alphin)

  • Alphin S. (2012). Using Technology to Connect Public Libraries and Teens. iSchool Student Research Journal, 2(2)
  • Akanwa P. (2013). Public Library Services to Children in Rural Areas. Library Philosophy and Practice, 1029.
  • Anderson, K., Barblett, L., Barratt-Pugh, C., Haig, Y. and Leitão, N. (2013). Better Beginnings: Public Libraries Making Literacy Links with the Adult Community. Libri, 63(4)
  • Balina, S. (2014). Public Libraries – Facilitators of Information Society and e- Inclusion in Latvia. Procedia – Social and Behavioral Sciences, 109, pp.412-416.
  • Bogel, G. (2012). Public Library Summer Reading Programs Contribute to Reading Progress and Proficiency. Evidence Based Library and Information Practice, 7(1), p.102.
  • Gerner Nielsen, B. (2014). Public libraries and lifelong learning. PIEB, 14(2), pp.94-102.
  • Lai, H. (2011). Information Literacy Training in Public Libraries: A Case from Canada. Educational Technology & Society, 14 (2), p.81.
  • Nzivo, C. (2012). User perception on library services and information resources in Kenyan Public Libraries. Library Review, 61(2), pp.110-127.