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Social capital and the public library: Investigating the relationship

Catherine A. Johnson and Dyan E. Barbeau

(Submission #78)


This presentation reports on a study that investigated the relationship between use of public libraries and social capital. Questionnaires were administered to 130 public library users and interviews were conducted with 15 library staff members at three branch libraries in poor neighborhoods in a large Midwestern city. Two concepts of social capital - as a collective resource (Putnam, 2000) and as an individual resource (Lin, 2001b) - frame the study. The public library is an important social institution since it is a public space where people of the community gather, meet one another and freely access community resources. Putnam has implied that social capital emerges from social interactions of the kind taking place in libraries, suggesting that libraries may be an important resource for helping to build community cohesion. Linís concept of social capital as an individual resource, however, suggests that libraries may also be an alternative for people with low levels of social capital since it is a place where they can make use of information technology and the knowledge and help of librarians when they have no one in their personal networks who can provide the resources they need. The research questions for this study are: 1) What is the relationship between use of the public library and community social capital; and 2) Does the level of individual social capital affect library use? Findings from the study will also demonstrate the usefulness of the concept of social capital as a means to understand the social role of the library and the social factors that affect how the library is used.


[Paper (DOC)]  

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