Infrastructuring the Social: Public Libraries and their Transformative Capacity in Austerity Urbanism (ILIT)

Public libraries are traditionally acknowledged as places for information provision and knowledge transmission. Other functions in urban everyday life have until recently been less prominent: The library as a freely accessible place for encounter, mutual learning and care. While libraries’ holistic role in urban everyday life increasingly appears on the radar of patrons, librarians and municipalities, this is heavily threatened by austerity pressures.

“Infrastructuring Public Libraries” (ILIT) examines how public libraries in Austria, Sweden and the Netherlands address systemic challenges such as unemployment, loneliness and segregation in rapidly transforming societies. It deploys the analytics of ‘infrastructuring’ and ‘librarising’ to unpack the (in)formal practices whereby librarians, patrons, policy-makers and other concerned groups provide, perform and maintain public libraries as important socio-cultural infrastructures.

ILIT’s overall ambition is to simultaneously study and cultivate a sense of community and social infrastructuring as performed in and through public libraries. To this end, the interdisciplinary team combines ethnography, critical policy analysis and design-based approaches. Scholars with backgrounds in anthropology, human geography, library studies, political science and social design are further developing the participatory method of co-productive zine making with different groups who each in their own way are holding a stake in library infrastructure.

ILIT aims at enhancing institutional support for libraries, strengthening libraries’ capacity as local places of knowledge, community and care, and amplifying community librarianship as an innovation driver towards community-based development. This is balanced by critical reflection on a trend whereby library infrastructure is made to stand in for the lack of social welfare provision in austerity urbanism, often without additional resources.

The project is funded by ERA-NET Cofund Urban Transformation Capacities along with 15 other projectsILIT is supported by a transnational advisory board of practitioners and experts. In Vienna, anthropologists Alexa Färber and Marion Hamm work with social designer Alessia Scuderi. They collaborate with partners at Vienna Public LibrariesEuropean Bureau of Library Information and Documentation Association  and the Region Skåne (RS), as well as the University of Lund (Sweden)Radboud University (Netherlands) where ILIT is coordinated.

ILIT Website (under construction):



Alexa Färber | Marion Hamm | Alessia Scuderi


ERA-NET Cofund Urban Transformation Capacities

Project duration

1.5.2022 – 30.4.2025