American Sociological Association

The Public Library as Resistive Space in the Neoliberal City

With reduced hours, decaying infrastructure, and precariously positioned staff, local public libraries provide much needed services in cities devastated by inequality and slashed safety nets. In this article, I draw on ethnographic research of a small public library in a diverse, mostly working class neighborhood in Queens, New York. I show that in addition to providing an alternative to the capitalist market by distributing resources according to people's needs, the library serves as a moral underground space, where middle‐class people bend rules to help struggling city residents. Although the library occasionally replicates hegemonic ideologies about immigrant assimilation, it provides a striking example of cross‐class and interclass solidarities and resistance to the neoliberal social order. I conclude by discussing the potential of public libraries as everyday spaces of subversion and emancipation, as well as research sites for urban scholars.


Sofya Aptekar





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