The effect of public library use on the social capital of rural communities

By Catherine A. Johnson and Matthew R. Griffis

Abstract:

This paper reports on a study that investigated the relationship between social capital and public library use in small towns in Ontario, Canada. Comparisons were also made with the findings of a similar study that was conducted in a medium-sized urban centre. Data for this study were collected through questionnaires administered to both library users and non-users and interviews with library staff and frequent library users. Both Robert Putnam’s and Nan Lin’s conceptualizations of social capital informed the design of this study. The study found that participants from small towns had higher levels of social capital than the urban participants. However, in contrast with urban participants, library use had no significant association with levels of social capital for small town participants. The findings suggest that small town libraries cater mainly to middle-class residents who maintain their high level of social capital through participation in a variety of community activities and organizations.

Keywords
Community building, public libraries, rural libraries, small towns, social capital, urban libraries

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