Public Libraries Meet Big Data: Roles, Comprehension and Practical Applications

Ming Zhan

Research output: Types of ThesisDoctoral ThesisCollection of Articles


The world is witnessing the advent of Big Data. Meanwhile, the development of technology accelerates the spread of Big Data. As such, organizations have started to realize that Big Data can be important resource owing to its value transformation characteristic. Both private and public sectors have applied Big Data for resource saving, decision making, service improving etc. Public libraries as one of the necessary parts of public sectors should also commit themselves into exploiting the potential values of Big Data.

Furthermore, the wide application of social media not only brings about more possibilities for public libraries to extend their services, communicate with users, and present themselves, but also makes public libraries confront an exponential data explosion. Since Big Data can be transformed into useful information, public libraries, as hubs of information, are in a natural position to explore values via analyzing Big Data generated on social media, and manage information and knowledge generated from Big Data. Nonetheless, there are few studies focusing on helping public libraries to understand, manage and use Big Data. Therefore, the overall purpose of this study is to help public libraries realize what their responsibilities might be in the context of Big Data and to understand what Big Data is and how it can be applied.

In order to achieve the overall purpose, four research questions are asked. Each question is answered by one study included in this doctoral dissertation. Inductive approaches combining qualitative or quantitative methodologies are conducted to accomplish each study.

Q1: What kinds of roles should public libraries undertake in the context of Big Data? An online survey and eleven semi-structured interviews with library directors were carried out to identify roles of public libraries in the context of Big Data. Q2: What does Big Data mean specifically in librarianship? A content analysis was conducted to highlight key aspects of Big Data definitions used in library and information science literatures. The answers to these two questions jointly lay the theoretical foundation of Big Data for public libraries.

In order to present public libraries with concrete examples about how to apply Big Data, Instagram is chosen as the representative of social media to collect data owing to its rising popularity, its leading role in image-based social media and the lack of research in utilizing Instagram in public libraries. Hashtags are chosen as the starting point to design research projects, owing to their widespread usage on social media, in particular Instagram. Hashtags could signify the content of Instagram captions and boost communication between caption posters and other Instagram users. Therefore, two research questions are asked based on these two functions of hashtags. Q3: How should libraries effectively organize hashtags to attain more “likes” and comments for library-related posts on Instagram? Q4: What 6 topics do current readers like or dislike? Millions of library-related captions were collected and analysed to answer these two questions via regression models and supervised machine learning models.

In the end, this study outlines nine roles for public libraries to undertake in the context of Big Data. A Big Data definition specifically used in librarianship is also put forward. Two applications of Big Data for public libraries are organized. These three contents together fulfill the overall purpose. The accomplishment of this study fills research gaps in bringing Big Data to public libraries, enriches the content of Big Data applications and Instagram applications in public libraries, handles the uneven spread research in social media study regarding the single-platform prevalence, suggests a novel way to use hashtags: hashtag organization, and provides a creative way to know library users: sentiment analysis on hashtags. Moreover, this doctoral study is organized in Finland where public libraries are highly developed. Therefore, the result of this study could contribute to the development of public libraries in the context of Big Data in other countries.
Original languageEnglish
  • Widén, Gunilla, Supervisor
  • Hall, Hazel, Supervisor, External person
Place of PublicationÅbo
Print ISBNs978-952-12-4069-0
Electronic ISBNs 978-952-12-4070-6
Publication statusPublished - 2021
MoE publication typeG5 Doctoral dissertation (article)


Dive into the research topics of 'Public Libraries Meet Big Data: Roles, Comprehension and Practical Applications'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this