Public libraries: places creating social capital?


Publication date


Series/Report no

Library hi tech;27(3)



Document type


Purpose – The purpose of this paper is to show why studies of public libraries, regarding their possible contribution in creating social capital, are important for social capital research in general, and are important for library practice in particular. Design/methodology/approach – Building on the latest theoretical developments and empirical findings of social capital research, the role of the public library as a potential creator of social capital is discussed. Findings from both quantitative and qualitative empirical research are discussed, and also the need for further studies is presented. Findings – The paper reports quantitative macro-level results concerning whether public library expenditure can contribute in explaining social trust patterns in the OECD countries. However, to be able to ascertain this, numerous qualitative studies revealing the mechanisms actually generating generalized trust are needed. Preliminary qualitative interviews suggest that this approach can prove fruitful. Research limitations/implications – The implications for further research into public libraries and the building of generalized trust are twofold: one the one hand, more specific research questions on the role libraries can be asked regarding accommodating diversity and increasing trust among diverse groups, e.g. immigrants. On the other hand, the suitability of the public library for investigating these questions makes the results relevant for social capital research in general. Practical implications – The library profession points to the importance of libraries for social capital and maintain that libraries have been overlooked in this matter. Strong sentiments like this should be ideal for implementation of research based library policies, strategies and activities for creating social capital. Originality/value – What is new in this research is that studies of public libraries may contribute in resolving the impasse within contemporary social capital research where neither institutional nor societal perspectives seem to be able to verify how social capital is created




Permanent URL (for citation purposes)