|Libraries Building Communities is one of a suite of Statewide Projects auspiced by the Library Board of Victoria aiming to assist the development of the Victorian public library network.
The role that public libraries play in sustaining social capital was much talked about at a conference for Victorian public library service management titled 'Library Odyssey 2001-2010', held over three days in March 2001 to discuss the future of public library services in Victoria. The managers agreed that social engagement was the public library service's highest strategic priority.
During the conference the work of Eva Cox in particular was highlighted. Cox argues that some of the most important roles of public libraries, as 'safe' spaces for diverse groups to meet, as public spaces where trust can be built, and as community centres that draw people in through various formal and informal activities, is notably under-reported. She recommends that:
- Libraries consciously advocate and articulate the recognition of their social role within a community as an important site that has value, including by its physical presence.
- Libraries explore ways in which they can increase their visibility and reach within a community as part of the social structure of shared space and interaction for people from diverse backgrounds living together.
- Library reports on the business of libraries include in their research and analysis some accounting of factors that enhance the ways libraries contribute to the social capital of a community.
- Trust-building be seen as a core function of local libraries so that libraries will actively be part of developing local community capacities, particularly in areas where lack of social capital is affecting the resilience of networks and capabilities for collective problem solving.
(in World Bank Social Capital Discussion List, June 2000).
Cox's research builds on much work that has been done overseas, especially in the UK in this area, notably work by Comedia (The Place of the Library, 1993, and Beyond Back Issues: the social potential of Library Projects, 1998); and by the University of Sheffield (New Measures for the New Library : a Social Audit of Public Libraries, 1998).
However, there was also a need to gather data that relates specifically to Victorian public library services and their communities. The Libraries Building Communities research project answers this need.