Mayor Daley building libraries and social capital

Mayor Daley speaking in a Chicago library

James Warren describes in the NY Times the social impact of Mayor Daley’s reading efforts (20 OneBook, One Chicago picks) and his legacy of community building through libraries.  Excerpt:

So far, he [Mayor Daley] has built or renovated 55 libraries…..

“Through the scores of libraries he’s built, like the Near North Branch, at the juncture of diverse neighborhoods, he’s encouraged us to develop social bridges across our differences,” said Thomas H. Sander, an expert on social and civic engagement at the Harvard Kennedy School at Harvard University. “That’s all the more important in an era of rampant inequality and heightened segregation.”

Libraries are still about serving people, but book circulation is not the primary goal. The trick is enlarging the transactions, especially electronic ones, and measuring the number of people coming in the door, not just books going out the door, said Lew Feldstein, co-author with Robert Putnam of “Better Together,” a study in community-building amid the well-chronicled decline in civic engagement.

“Libraries like Chicago’s, which have been in the lead in the country, have become strong community centers — helping new immigrants become citizens, acquire language skills, get advice on filling out city forms,” Mr. Feldstein said. “Kids come after school to study and schmooze and hang with their buddies.”

Read, “Daley’s Legacy of Libraries, Culture and Literacy” (NY Times, James Warren, March 5, 2011)

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