The public library and social inclusion : information services to jobseekers.
The principle that libraries have a role to play in the provision of information for
jobseekers is recognised widely in public library authorities across the country, not only by
the authorities themselves, but also by other bodies concerned with jobseekers. However,
the range and variety of initiatives is capable of generating confusion among jobseekers.
The library is well placed to act as a focus for information for jobseekers - information that
comes from a variety of institutions and initiatives and is not only confined to vacancies.
This thus poses three questions which the research attempts to answer :-
- is the library at the focus?
- is the library seen to be at the focus?
- if not, why not - if so, how does it make it work?
This project approaches these questions by contributing to the current national
debates as to the future development of information agencies, policies and initiatives
through the interviews with Job Centre clients, a group whose views in this area have
never before been canvassed and who, therefore, offer a new perspective on the issues. This
debate has raised the potential of the public library network as an agent of social and
economic regeneration, a role of the public library previously accepted within the service,
but rarely without. The thesis demonstrates the interface between the social and economic
potential of the public library and the needs and demands of the 'information poor', as well
as highlighting the importance of the recreational role of the Public Library.
The methods used to answer these questions were threefold.
Firstly, a survey was carried out of all public library authorities in England and Wales. Of
the surveys distributed, 82% were completed, an excellent rate of response. It is clear from
this survey that the overwhelming majority of public library authorities feel that it is
their role to provide services for jobseekers. The survey also shows that many authorities
provide a wide range of non-statutory services. This provision of the "newer" technologies
is important for jobseekers as they are generally unable to afford to purchase such
technology. The survey also indicated that the view of jobseekers held by public library
authorities was an inclusive one, and covered those both in and out of work.
Secondly, case-study authorities were chosen from the respondents to the
questionnaire. These were selected on the basis of declared level of provision, and also on
type of authority. Four case studies were selected, one County Council (Wiltshire), two
Urban Authorities (Lewisham and Manchester) and one Welsh Authority (Wrexham). The
selection was carried out thus in order to reflect the preponderance of Urban Authorities in
the respondents to the original survey. These case studies have investigated the
demographics, control and profile of the authorities involved. Managers and staff of
library authorities were interviewed about provision and provision was viewed on site and
assessed with reference to other case studies and two models of provision, the 'integrative'
and the 'targeted' were identified.
Thirdly, interviews were undertaken with clients of Job Centres in the case-study
authorities. Ninety-four interviews were carried out across the four authorities. These
interviews investigated jobseekers use of both the public library and other information
providers in this area, and also assessed jobseekers' attitudes towards the public library.
The survey showed that almost 70% of those interviewed used the public library, with 48%
of these using the library at least once a month. Just over half of the respondents said that
the Public library was for everyone and should provide useful information for jobseekers.
Only 16% said that the library was not the place for jobseekers to obtain information.
When asked if they would use the Public Library if it advertised services useful to
jobseekers, 94% said that they would.
This empirical work has been placed within a theoretical framework based on the
work of Jiirgen Habermas. The public library is "arguably the nearest thing we have in
Britain to an achieved Public Sphere" (Webster 1995) and this research enables the
conception of the Public Library as an achieved Public Sphere to be reassessed and,
therefore, the role of the public library to be reconceptualised.