Building Social Captial in Libraries

Posted in Uncategorized at 8:06 pm

Social capital – a sociological concept which refers to connections within and between social networks – is something I’ve been thinking and reading about lately.  This is largely due to the fact that it’s highly relevant to the topic of a conference paper I’m co-authoring (more on that later), but also just because it’s so interesting.

All the passionate public librarians I’ve ever known or worked with – and not just Children’s and YA folk, although that’s obviously where my bias and connections lie – have been heavily into developing the social capital of their libraries, even if that’s not the term they’ve used for it (and I admit it’s not a term I was familiar with until my co-author introduced it to me).  It seems very obvious that libraries need to develop relationships with their users, but this sometimes seem to be something that goes over the heads of decision-makers, sadly enough.  Many hands have been wrung and much ink has been spilled on the topic of libraries remaining relevant to their users, and it’s a good and relevant question, particularly for public libraries, whose funding must frequently be justified in terms of statistics – bodies through the door, loans statistics, program attendances, and the like.  Intrinsic value won’t get you very far, but at the same time, a library that isn’t relevant to the needs of its users doesn’t have much intrinsic value, a fact which I think sometimes the hand-wringers forget.  Yes, it sucks to have to run a library like a business minus the profit, but if your shelves are full of things that people don’t want then you’re not providing much of a service.

I’m still thinking through a lot of this stuff as it will relate to the paper, and just in general, but I wanted to share a good quote from an article by Carolyn Bourke, which is available for reading here (PDF):

“We want people in our Council, State Government Departments, local organisations, the business community and the general community to think of the Library when they have a great idea to build social capital.  We want to be one of the obvious places people think to come not just for resources but also for the broader community issues.  If we are truly to be facilitators in a knowledge society we have to be visible and active in our communities, constantly looking for new ways to build bridges to the excluded and the marginalised.”

I’d love to hear your thoughts if you have anything to share.