This book, along with much of the recent work of Comedia on public space and civic cultures, is informed by a number of concepts and terms which, because they are so frequently to be found in the text, are worth elaborating or signposting here. Dictionary-type definitions of course are never enough and, as with so many words and ideas, their meaning always depends on the nuances of the contexts in which they are used. Yet we find these conceptual frameworks and terms so useful - if occasionally improperly understood - that we wish at least to try and explain how they have been used. A considerable intellectual debt here is owed to Raymond Williams's Keywords}
The definition of the term "public" is historically broad-ranging and it is used in everyday language and in this book in a number of ways. Indeed, it is a central term. It includes "the public sphere", "public realm", "public space", "public building", "public interest", "public access" and of course "public library". The word "public" embraces a multifaceted set of meanings, including "concerning the people as a whole", "open to all" "maintained at the expense of the community", "serving the community" and "for the use of the community". Synonyms for these uses encompass "civic", "common" or "communal", "general", "social", "universal", "widespread", "not restricted", "accessible" and "not private".