Social Class and Libraries


Social exclusion and poverty - what do they have to do with libraries? Well, two thirds of library patrons are middle class, while that group only represents one third of the population; the remaining two thirds are working class. The poor and socially excluded, as members of the working class, are not being served by libraries as they might be.

\"Public libraries, social exclusion and social class\", and article in Information for Social Change by John Pateman, explores the issue in depth, going into detail about the concept of social class and research that has been done in Britain on library use. Here is an excerpt:That social exclusion is not just about poverty has been recognised by government ministers, including Arts Minister Alan Howarth. His statement on public libraries and social exclusion is a good starting point for examining the issue of class and public libraries. Howarth (1998) said :

\"The socially excluded are not just suffering from material poverty but are all too typically isolated from the social and civic networks that enable people to live successfully in - and contribute to - modern society. We are determined to ensure that our society does not become divided into information haves and have-nots. Those who are socially disadvantaged, those with disabilities and those who otherwise cannot participate in education and training in the normal way must not be excluded from the information revolution that is upon us...Public libraries must more and more take their place as street corner universities, providing real opportunities for everyone regardless of their place in society\"

This seems to suggest that everyone has a \"place in society\" and it is my view that this place is largely determined by the class system. As Muddiman (1999) has said : \"The key determinants of social exclusion, most studies show, are structural : that is, most excluded people are poor, and they are working class\". The key determinants of public library use and non use are also poverty and class. The \"Breadline Britain\" surveys reported by Bramley (1996) looked at the use of and attitudes to a range of public services by poor and disadvantaged people. Through use of multivariate analysis, these surveys identified social class as the most important single determinant of public library use...

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