Public Libraries as Contributing to Social Capital

October 17, 2010 at 8:32 pm 1 comment

Johnson, Catherine A.. 2010. Do Public Libraries Contribute to Social Capital? A Preliminary Investigation into the Relationship. Library & Information Science Research 32: 147-155.

Public libraries have been held in high regard by communities since they were established in North America in the mid-19th century. Recently, with their diminishing informational role combined with the economic downturn, libraries have had to reassert their relevance to communities in a period of severely reduced municipal budgets. One role that is often assumed but rarely examined in depth is the library as a generator of social capital. This preliminary study investigates the relationship between public libraries and indicators of social capital using a questionnaire survey administered in three branch libraries in a large Midwestern American city. Library users had significantly higher levels of social capital in terms of community involvement and trust than a random sample of city residents. When frequency or library use was correlated with indicators of social capital there were mixed results. Library use was significantly associated with community involvement, but not with trust, lack of trust in neighbors may be the incentive for people to become more involved in their communities in order to create a safer environment. The findings suggest that there is a strong relationship between public libraries and social capital but that further research is needed to broaden the base of the study and to include interviews with library patrons and staff so as to get a more nuanced view of how social capital is created.


Entry filed under: social capital.

21st Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act Cultural Institutions as Sites of Adult Education. (libraries, museums, zoos, natural places)

1 Comment Add your own

  • 1. Francis Adebola-Wilson  |  June 22, 2012 at 1:29 am

    The social leveling aspect of the interaction is apparent in that our library serves the Morrow Community. The general public can visit and could even participate in the different programs organized by the library. If our consideration of public libraries as promoting social capital demonstrates anything, it is that, much as librarians may wish to have their organizations create social capital, a rigorous application of Drueke, Kranich and Johnson’s criteria must be fully implemented.


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