Purpose – The purpose of this paper is to present a review of the literature within the fields of public librarianship, social exclusion and empathy. \ud \ud Design/methodology/approach – The cross-disciplinary review involved the consultation of material from disciplines including library and information management, politics, social policy and social sciences, cultural studies, psychology, management and organizational theory. It was structured according to the following themes: exclusion, inclusion and social policy, social inclusion in public services and the cultural sector, the role of public libraries in social inclusion and professional empathy and the public library service. \ud \ud Findings –The concept of social inclusion remains at the core of public library policy and strategy, and is embedded in contemporary social theory. Conflicting views have emerged as to the perceived and actual role of the public library in combating social exclusion, with a need expressed for research to be conducted that bridges the gap between the “philosophical” interpretations of community librarianship and the more practical, “real world” studies, in order to fully understand the concept of community librarianship. A critical link is made between social inclusion and public librarianship to professional empathy. \ud \ud Research limitations/implications – The paper provides an edited version of the overall literature review, yet it is felt that it would be of theoretical and practical relevance and value to the professional and academic communities. \ud \ud Originality/value – Empathy is a relatively new concept in librarianship research, and prior to the study of which this review forms a part only limited findings have been available.\u
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