Sonia Sjollema (PhD student)

Thesis title: Can Public Libraries Still be Public?


After completing my studies in clinical psychology and occupational and organisational psychology, I gained practical experience in HRM and organisational development at various consultancies. In my current role as the managing director of the NSvP and Knowledge Centre Innovation in Work, I am responsible for leading the development and implementation of projects and activities. The NSvP is a foundation aiming to change work practices and labour market policies to create a future where fair and dignified work is available for everyone. This future values diverse talent, prioritises people's needs, and ensures that technology reduces individual differences rather than increasing them. I contribute to knowledge dissemination through the NSvP knowledge centre and by organising seminars and conferences.

In my PhD research, I shifted my attention to education, focusing on the aims and practices of informal education and public pedagogy.


Research summary

  • education
  • public pedagogy
  • informal education
  • adult education
  • deliberative democracy
  • public institutions
  • the public sphere


Project activity

In my PhD research I focus on the aims and practices of informal education and public pedagogy. 

I conduct my research in the Netherlands at the Amsterdam Public Library, focusing on libraries' changing educational and public roles. My main research question is: What does the introduction of makerspaces do or mean to the public and the educational role of public libraries? Makerspaces are places where children can participate in new educational activities, like 3D printing and laser cutting.  The thesis addresses the urgent question of whether public libraries are still public. The research shows that if educational activities are developed outside the policy of schooling and without interference from accountability systems, there is still an opportunity to resist the neoliberal agenda of individual skill development and reconnect to the library's history as an educational and public institution. The research indicates that, under specific circumstances, small-scale bottom-up initiatives involving professionals, partners, and social movements can develop. These initiatives enrich educational discourses and potentially strengthen the library as a public educational good. However, the position of makerspaces in the library is fragile, as impact management and systems of new public management enhance and hamper the emancipatory and democratic educational aims and the library's independent democratic function in society. The study is relevant to practice as it disrupts the idea that the public library is solely an instrument of policy agendas and underlines that it has democratic values to protect. It highlights the relevance of professional judgment in education as a context-based practice.