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Independent libraries and cultural sustainability

Loach, Kirsten Sarah (2018) Independent libraries and cultural sustainability. Doctoral thesis (PhD), Manchester Metropolitan University in collaboration with The Portico Library.

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Abstract

This thesis initially set out to explore how heritage can be sustained in independent libraries. Noting a lack of sustainability research in the independent library sector, the remit of the study was extended to consider how the concept of sustainability has been interpreted in museums, libraries, and archives (MLAs) more widely. A critical analysis of the literature in this area revealed the shortcomings of the dominant triple bottom line approach which does not put enough emphasis on the role of MLAs in sustaining heritage. However, it is subsequently argued that increasing recognition of the importance of cultural sustainability offers the opportunity to address this issue. A Conceptual Model for the Levels of Sustainability in MLAs is proposed, seeking to provide the opportunity to further explore the relationship between MLAs and cultural sustainability. Based on the assumption that MLAs play a mediating role between the heritage that they sustain and external cultural sustainability goals, this model is used to guide the collection of data in independent libraries. Through a combination of document research and qualitative interviews a comprehensive account of the cultural heritage assets of independent libraries in the UK and USA, their potential contributions to cultural sustainability, and the challenges to achieving these contributions is established. This provides the basis for the proposal of the Conceptual Framework for Achieving Cultural Sustainability in Independent Libraries. The contributions of the thesis are twofold. Firstly, the Conceptual Model for the Levels of Sustainability in MLAs provides a new perspective to consider the relationship between MLAs and sustainability which reasserts the importance of their role in sustaining heritage. Secondly, the Conceptual Framework for Achieving Cultural Sustainability in Independent Libraries demonstrates the complexities of the relationship between an MLA organisation and cultural sustainability beyond one-way contributions to external cultural sustainability goals. By revealing the multi-layered and often conflicting sustainability requirements of MLAs to preserve cultural heritage, ensure the effective management of the internal culture of their organisations, and demonstrate commitment to external cultural sustainability goals, it provides a new tool by which to extend our understanding of the relationship between MLAs and cultural sustainability.

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