Public libraries have always been under pressure to earn their place in society - but can their benefit to the community be proven? Although the concept of social capital can be traced back to 1916, in the past 10 years social capital theory has been linked increasingly to the public library. Social capital refers to links between people in society - “networks, norms and trust” (Putnam 1996, 34) - which produce positive outcomes for the community as a whole. The purpose of this article is to investigate the library as place and the potential of the public library to create social capital. This comprises the examination of two cases, Edinburgh City Libraries in Edinburgh, Scotland and Kobenhavns Biblioteker in Copenhagen, Denmark in the form of a comparative case study. The methods used to elicit data included qualitative interviews with library managers, observation, and consultation of organizational documentation. The case study was limited by a small sample size, possibility of cultural bias, and lack of generalizability of evidence. Findings show that library staff in Edinburgh and Copenhagen are actively involved in creating social capital in a number of ways: through facilitating or organizing meetings, providing an informal meeting place, forging links between groups in the community, creating a welcoming environment, and by meeting community educational needs. It was found that Copenhagen and Edinburgh share in many characteristics, but have different attitudes to trust. Conclusions demonstrate that three main factors affect the library’s potential to create social capital; the library building and space, the library’s staff and volunteers, and the links that the library has with the community. It is recommended that further research should be carried out in the area of library as place and on the identification of factors generating social capital.
© 2014 by Walter de Gruyter Berlin/Boston
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