The writing is not on the wall for libraries

Don't judge a library by its covers, there's much more than reading taking place inside.

University of Western Sydney researcher Jen Li has discovered that libraries function as important social spaces within communities.

Ms Li, who is based at the university's Parramatta campus, is writing a doctoral thesis about public libraries and reading habits.

While some have tolled the funeral bell for brick-and-mortar libraries, Ms Li discovered that people still think of libraries as vital public spaces.

And far from simply being sites of research and reading, they bring people together.

"The most interesting thing I have found so far is that the role of the library now is as a community hub," Ms Li, who started her doctorate last year, said.

"The library is an important public space.

"It's a social space. Some of the respondents said it's nice to go somewhere where you are surrounded by other people."

During the course of her research the Winston Hills resident also found that libraries provided a refuge for people disconnected from society.

"It's somewhere for isolated people to go where they don't have to pay and they are not obliged to buy anything like in a cafe or shop," she said.

The 28-year-old bookworm interviewed 30 library users and 13 librarians on diverse subjects from reading routines, to the organisation of books on shelves.

The idea for research came to her when she was working in Britain a few years ago and witnessed widespread debate about public libraries being closed to meet budget requirements.

"There's a lot more digital technology out there and a lot of people claiming that libraries are irrelevant but I'll use a Neil Gaiman quote — 'Google can bring you back 100,000 answers, a librarian can bring you back the right one'," Ms Li said.

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