From The Beacon: Local libraries build ‘social capital'

Book recommendations and more from the Beaufort County Public Library

February 13, 2011 

With more than 90,000 library card holders, it's safe to say that Beaufort County Public Library is a popular gathering place for our community.

Like all libraries, we provide access to innovation and opportunity that brings citizens together and breaks down the barriers of age, ethnicity, education, culture and economic status. We are a department of Beaufort County government and through its support, we provide much needed services and resources for our citizens.

We have three Friends of the Library Groups and a Public Library Foundation, all nonprofit support groups, which feel passionately about the mission of the library system and the community in which they live. It's no wonder that libraries help create the social networks that enable the kind of coordination and cooperation that serves to strengthen civil society -- and yet, this may be the first time you've thought of the library in these broad terms.

Libraries are the engine of "social capital," engaging citizens young and old in the life of their communities. Robert Putnam, author of "Bowling Alone" explained that, "<2009>'Social capital' refers to features of social organization such as networks, norms and social trust that facilitate coordination and cooperation for mutual benefit." So what does that look like? Imagine a group of your neighbors informally keeps an eye on your home when you're away -- that's social capital in action. Other examples would include barn-raising in Amish towns and e-mail exchanges among members of a cancer support group.

Indeed, social capital can be found in friendship networks, neighborhoods, churches, schools, bridge clubs, civic associations and even bars. The bar motto on the TV show "Cheers" -- "Where everybody knows your name" -- captures one very important aspect of social capital: the familiarity and comfort of being known and part of a whole.

Libraries build social capital by providing that public space where citizens can work together on personal and community problems. Our library branches have become nity hubs and provide a familiar and trustworthy setting for the important work of community.

Even within South Carolina, libraries are supporting one another in creative, innovative ways. The South Carolina State Library serves the trustees, staff and customers of public library systems across the state. It distributes state aid designated by the legislature to serve the public libraries and provides leadership in the SCLends Consortium, a group of public libraries which share resources.

Across our state, our county and the not-so-broad Broad River, the public library system of Beaufort County is making a difference in the life of our community not only because of what you'll find or what you can do when you get there, but also because you're there, learning new things, making new connections, building a stronger community.

Sandra Saad, CFRE, is the director for development and marketing for the Beaufort County Public library System and serves as the chief development officer for the Public Library Foundation of Beaufort County.

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