The educational roles of public libraries in Portugal : political and professional perceptions
This study examines the educational roles of public libraries in Portugal, as
perceived by elected members and public librarians.
The research was undertaken in 15 local authorities throughout the country,
selected by purposeful sampling from the responses to a preliminary questionnaire.
The methodology used a grounded theory approach and the core data were
obtained via semi-structured interviews with 53 respondents.
The data suggest that the respondents view public libraries as having well
established roles in the fields of literacy, reading promotion and up to some extent,
lifelong learning. Diverse sectors of the community are considered as beneficiaries
of the library support to learning, including children and young people, higher
education students, teachers and adult learners. The public library also helps
vulnerable people overcome geographical, economic and age barriers to education.
The evidence obtained by this study suggests that these roles are more relevant in a
country such as Portugal that has generally low levels of literacy and poor socioeconomic
indicators. The views of the respondents acknowledge this relevance, but
differences of opinion emerge from the data suggesting some partial and limited
opinions on the educational roles, especially the support for lifelong learning.
This study suggests that several factors may influence the perceptions of the
respondents. These factors include the socio-economic and educational context in
which public libraries operate and a poor public perception of library roles, caused
by the relative newness of public libraries in Portugal. Individual and local factors,
such as the education and professional experience of the respondents and the size
of the local authorities may also influence perceptions. The managerial and legal
context is characterised by lack of legislation on public libraries and a traditionalist
and bureaucratic organisational culture. The absence of an underlying philosophy
on the roles of libraries in education is very apparent in the lack of research and
publications in this field.
A number of recommendations are put forward: legislation on public libraries,
including on their educational roles, the publication of standards and guidelines, the
increase of resources, especially staff and finance. Further research on the
educational roles of public libraries is also recommended