Public libraries have changed beyond anyone's predictions in the past ten years and are at a vital stage in their historical development. This timely book is the first standalone text to examine the role and services of the UK public library in the 21st century context. The book discusses the nature and functions of the modern public library service, from its beginnings as the street-corner university, through its delivery of state-of-the-art services and beyond. At the heart of the book is a passionate argument for the professional and public significance of the public library service. The key chapters are: - public libraries: the modern context - historical development of public libraries - equity of access - cultural and leisure roles - information, advice and informed citizenship - lifelong learning - the impact of ICT - management, governance and budgeting issues - performance measurement and evaluation - professional and staffing issues - marketing, branding and buildings - the public library of tomorrow. Readership: Of interest to all students and researchers of library and information science, as well as professionals in public libraries, this book is an advocacy tool for an essential service consistently under pressure.