The considerable dynamics of public libraries all over the world, is closely related to the recent 'discovery' that they can play an important role in the future sustainable development of cities. The central research question is: how can they do this and what are the specific implications for their strategic management and profiling? What are the alternative perspectives for public libraries to broaden their own strategic management focus in order to join public networks aiming for the future development of cities ? By means of explorative case-study research in Flanders and the Netherlands (i.e. the 'low' countries) we discovered that various public libraries do play an important role in the future development of Flemish and Dutch cities. However, this strategic role is not necessarily homogeneous or uniform in nature. Beside the generic strategic role in urban development, additional and more specific strategic roles occur (e.g. the urban landmark, area oriented herald and the target group supporter). Consequently, the identification of strategic roles of public libraries in urban development clearly demands for a more complex, subtle and differentiated approach. This is rather new for the traditionally homogeneous strategic approach of “the” future public library and “the” strategic plan to encounter future challenges. Additionally, when the identified generic and specific strategic roles of the Flemish and Dutch public libraries are embedded in city innovation projects, they definitely become part of a broader network focusing on the overall future urban development. But, the question remains: to what extent is their complex, subtle and differentiated network contribution explicitly seen, observed and recognized as such? Are other partners and local governments in particular fully aware of their broad contribution in terms of information dissemination, knowledge development, cultural participation, social platform, image building (i.e. urban landmark), urban quarter (re)development (i.e. area-oriented heralds) and target group support? On the contrary, on the basis of our explorative case-study research we have experienced that this is not at all self-evident. It was the research project itself that seemed to stimulate or even initiate a debate on the strategic contribution of public libraries in urban development networks, not an already existing urban awareness, platform, policy or even plan. In this way we are inclined to emphasize the overall need to stimulate and organize a more explicit and focussed debate on the strategic contributions of public libraries in Flemish and Dutch cities to future urban development. Only then, can a more visible and possibly effective and appreciated strategic role in urban development be guaranteed.

National Biobliothek Copenhagen (Denmark)


Promotor & Senior Researcher: Nathalie Vallet

Partners: Cultuurconnect (Flemish Department of Culture and Public Libraries)


2013 - 2015