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Frank Huysmans has been reappointed as professor by special appointment of Information Society, with special regard to the transformation of public libraries. The chair is endowed by National Library of the Netherlands and forms part of the Department of Communication Science at the University of Amsterdam’s Faculty of Social and Behavioural Sciences.

This is a retroactive reappointment with effect from 1 January 2021. The name of the chair has been changed from ‘Library Science, with special regard to public libraries’ to ‘Information Society, with special regard to the transformation of public libraries’. Until the end of 2020, the chair formed part of the Department of Media Studies at the Faculty of Humanities.

Frank Huysmans has held the chair since its establishment in 2005. The reallocation and name change of the chair reflects a change of perspective. It is not the changing institution (the public library) itself that is central to teaching and research, but changes in social flows of communication and information and the place the public library occupies in them.

More emphasis on informing and assisting citizens

In line with the public service task specified in the new Library Act (known more accurately by its full name of the System of Public Library Facilities Act 2015), libraries have started to focus more on social services and activities. In addition to lending books, libraries now inform and assist citizens in a variety of areas. The promotion of reading skills, lifelong development and digital inclusion are examples of activities that fit in with the social tasks of libraries in 2021. How libraries will fulfil their social tasks in the coming years is described in the Network Agenda 2021-2023, which was presented on 16 June.

Broad community library

The opening of the 200th Digital Government Information Point on 24 June in Oegstgeest illustrates the development towards a broad community library. Libraries provide information and assistance to citizens not only when it comes to legal matters and digital skills, but also in areas such as youth and elderly care. The expansion of the national digital library with new electronic, educational and audio books and the roll-out of the ‘Library at School’ concept to pre-vocational secondary education institutions and teacher-training colleges for primary education are also key issues.

Concerns about possible deepening of social divides

These developments require monitoring and interpretation by means of social science research. Embedding the chair in the Faculty of Social and Behavioural Sciences was therefore a logical step. In addition, ‘broader’ developments such as the personalisation of media and information, the mutual influence of offline and online media, the datafication of all kinds of processes and the rise of artificial intelligence have far-reaching social consequences at all levels (individuals, groups, organisations and society). There are concerns among scholars and policymakers about the possible deepening of social divides between those who can keep up with digital reality and those who cannot. In the coming academic year, Huysmans will deal with theory and research in this field in a new course: ‘What does it mean to be literate? Social and policy consequences of 21st-century literacies’. His research builds on previous studies of the changing use of public libraries and the social value they add. He is particularly interested in the consequences of social differences in reading and writing proficiency, media skills and information literacy. In addition, he conducts comparative research into library systems in different countries. He is also active as a policy adviser, editor and columnist in various committees and scientific and professional journals.

About Frank Huysmans

From 2001-2010, Frank Huysmans (b. 1970) was employed as a researcher at the Netherlands Institute for Social Research (SCP) in The Hague, where he conducted research into media use and cultural participation. Before that, he worked as an assistant professor and researcher in the Department of Communication Science of Radboud University in Nijmegen, where he also studied (1987-1992) and obtained his doctorate (2001).

Selected publications

Deszcz-Tryhubczak, J., & Huysmans, F. (2018). Reading and digital media: European perspectives. In M. Barzillai, J. Thomson, S. Schroeder, & P. van den Broek (Eds.), Learning to Read in a Digital World (pp. 1-30). (Studies in Written Language and Literacy; Vol. 17). Amsterdam: John Benjamins.

Helvoort, J. van, Brand-Gruwel, S., Huysmans, F. & Sjoer, E. (2017). Reliability and validity test of a Scoring Rubric for Information LiteracyJournal of Documentation, 73 (2), 305-316.

Huysmans, F., & Oomes, M. (2018). The People's Palaces: Public Libraries in the Information Society. In E. van Meerkerk, & Q. L. van den Hoogen (Eds.), Cultural Policy in the Polder: 25 Years Dutch Cultural Policy Act (pp. 219-242). Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press.

Huysmans, F. (2016). Promoting media and information literacy in libraries. In M. Franke (Ed.), Research for CULT Committee: Public libraries - Their new role: workshop documentation (pp. 49-67). Brussels: European Parliament. Directorate-General for Internal Policies.

Kleijnen, E., Huysmans, F., Ligtvoet, R., & Elbers, E. (2017). Effect of a school library on the reading attitude and reading behaviour in non-western migrant studentsJournal of Librarianship and Information Science, 49 (3), 269-286.

Wennekers, A., Huysmans, F., & de Haan, J. (2018). Lees:Tijd: Lezen in Nederland. (SCP-publicatie; No. 2018-02). Den Haag: Sociaal en Cultureel Planbureau.