The nature and role of empathy in public librarianship

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Birdi, B. ; Wilson, K. ; Tso, H.M. (2009)
  • Publisher: SAGE Publications

This article presents two recent studies, an AHRC-funded exploration of the role of empathy in community librarianship (Study 1) and an investigation of the role of empathy in service to minority ethnic users (Study 2). Qualitative elements of each methodology are presented, namely a series of focus groups with frontline staff, interviews with senior managers and a research workshop (Study 1), and a case study investigation of a public library in the heart of a Chinese community (Study 2). Synthesizing the data of both studies, an analysis is conducted of the relationship between the cultural identities of library staff and their ability to empathize with the public. It is concluded that empathy plays a role in facilitating effective communication between staff and users, but that a distinction should be made between intuitive and cognitive empathy, in considering the potential of staff training to develop appropriate levels of emotional response to members of all communities. \ud \ud
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