Publications and Research

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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 inter-class 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.


This is the author's manuscript of a work originally published in City & Community, available at doi:10.1111/cico.12417.



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