Constructing discourses: A postmodern interpretation of a rural public library system

Grant, Penelope Anne (2003) Constructing discourses: A postmodern interpretation of a rural public library system. PhD thesis, James Cook University.

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Abstract

Aim. Most of the literature related to the study of library and information science tends to spring from a modern, positivist paradigm. Only a small number of theorists, working in what some describe as “the periphery” of library and information science (Trosow 2001), explore the ways that postmodern thought can be applied to the study of libraries. This thesis looks at issues related to a particular public library through both modern and postmodern perspectives. The insights evoked raise questions about many of the basic tenets of public librarianship. Scope. The subject of this study is the Vancouver Island Regional Library, a large integrated public library system on the west coast of Canada. The researcher is also the Executive Director. The underlying conceptual framework includes the idea that modern and postmodern thought are reflective of different epistemologies and play out differently within the contemporary social condition. The research is grounded in a qualitative, constructivist research tradition. Mailed questionnaires, individual interviews, and group interviews, using open-ended questions, are used to elicit opinions from board members, qualified librarians, local branch heads, and customers. Comments that seem to indicate a modern or postmodern perspective about such things as truth, knowledge, belief, the knowing subject, language, binary pairs, the role of the author, the organization of knowledge, the increase in information, professionals, power, the panoptic principle, moral panics, significant groups, feminism, culture, premodern phenomena, work, and bureaucracy, as they relate to the Vancouver Island Regional Library, are interpreted hermeneutically. This interpretation, it is argued, evokes new and interesting insights into the Regional Library that would not be found through scientific analysis. A second cycle of hermeneutic interpretation evokes scepticism about many of the modern, positivist tenets of public librarianship that one participant suggests are “inculcated” into librarians. Questions are raised about such long-standing beliefs as the need for the librarian’s neutral stance; the necessity of the balanced collection; the public library’s role in supporting intellectual freedom; the intrinsic difference between fiction and non-fiction; the scientific nature of the Dewey Decimal Classification system; the superiority of professional librarians; the possibility of complete, correct reference transactions; the need to charge penalties to ensure materials are returned on time; the belief that the female nature of the workforce is not significant; the effectiveness of library bureaucracy; the need for increased tax support for public libraries; and traditional ways of planning for the future of public libraries. A number of pragmatic strategies are suggested. Conclusion. The principal conclusion of the research is that postmodern thought can offer new insights into the Vancouver Island Regional Library. By implication it can help librarians and library and information science theorists understand other public libraries differently and, in so doing, assist public libraries adapt to the postmodern social condition.

Item ID: 1206
Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Keywords: Modern and postmodern perspectives, Public librarianship, Qualitative, constructivist research tradition, Hermeneutic interpretation, Positivist tenets of public librarianship, Mailed questionnaires, Individual interviews, Group interviews, Vancouver Island Regional Library, Canada
Date Deposited: 08 Nov 2006
FoR Codes: 08 INFORMATION AND COMPUTING SCIENCES > 0807 Library and Information Studies > 080706 Librarianship @ 0%
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