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.