Nkem E. Osuigwe works for the African Library and Information Associations & Institutions. She works as the Human Capacity Development and Training Director. Nkem shares her insights on the importance of social capital for libraries in this post. For Nkem’s contact information please see below in author details.

Social Capital

The world is becoming increasingly more interconnected. The possibilities of connecting, sharing and collaborating with people from all corners of the world are better than ever, as people ‘e-meet’ by viewing posts, liking and following on social media. Moreover, it is also becoming easier to deepen connections we have with colleagues, family and community members through the Internet.

Of course, we still meet and consolidate connections physically. These connections tend to be displayed in different forms. Connections could be circular- formed with people close to us and those in the same circles such as families and those we share the same culture with. They could be horizontal – bridges built as we hook up with friends, colleagues in the profession and former school mates wherever they are. Importantly, vertical connections could be made with people of upper or lower social status. These connections have great potential to be life-changing and of high value when they are undergirded with the principles of reciprocity, trust, collaboration and equity to build social capital.

OECD (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and development) has defined “social capital as the links, shared values and understandings in society that enable individuals and groups to trust each other and so work together.”[1] Taking it further, Arena (2019) posits that “social capital is the competitive advantage that is created based on the way an individual is connected to others.”

People have been known to secure jobs and access opportunities easily through their social networks. This is aided by the flow of information and reciprocity within such networks.

In these changing times, as libraries are facing varied challenges in many countries, librarians building more social capital for libraries is a crucial action to take.


Library advocacy is on the rise. IFLA was instrumental in creating a 2yr International Advocacy Program (IAP) for the inclusion of libraries into National Development Plans as agencies that provide access to information that is requisite for growth in all spheres of human existence. It ‘took’ in a number of countries while it is still a work in progress in others. For us to get the ears of those who can influence policies that will get Libraries a space on the table, we need as many voices as possible speaking up and standing for libraries. Being involved in networks and building social capital as a Librarian will draw the attention of more people to this.

Social capital is playing definitive roles as more and more causes and organisations crowdsource for resources including funding through online platforms. Quite a number of libraries have Foundations and volunteers that help them raise funds mainly within their communities. In these times of rapid changes, resources can be sought for libraries on larger platforms outside of known donors. This might become critical especially when donor-fatigue syndrome is identified. Social capital accumulated by Librarians could assist greatly to drive successful crowdsourcing for libraries.

In these times of rapid changes, resources can be sought for libraries on larger platforms outside of known donors. Share on X

How do we build social capital?

According to Marcus (2014), “a strong network is like money in the bank. Your network can help you build visibility, connect you with influencers, and open up doors for new opportunities”

  • Deliberately look out for connections. Be proactive, strategic and focused on building social capital as a librarian. Is it possible that there are people within your larger family circle, community or alumni that do not yet see you as a passionate librarian? Time to rectify that!

  • No limits! Reach out and connect to individuals and groups with objectives akin to the work we do in libraries; literacies of different types, education and research, acquisition of 21st century technology skills, the entire gamut of social inclusion etc. Social media platforms provide great opportunities for us to relate with organisations that can be of immense help to libraries. Follow their accounts.

    Culture defines our values. In connecting with people outside of our cultural milieu, librarians need to develop reasonable levels of cultural quotient so that the interactions won’t be bumpy or turn out negatively.

  • Be proactive in being useful to others in your network. Bring snippets of information or opportunities to people you know (easy one, we are Librarians – good at ferreting out information, evaluating and knowing trusted source, as well as sniffing out fake news and post-truths too!). Source for and find posts on online platforms that relate to the individuals or organisations you follow. Let them know about the information. Twitter makes it easy to @ at any of such accounts. Become a connector between people in your network and information that will transform their careers and professional development.

    LinkedIn is great for building professional connections. Mentoring relationships can develop as we become useful to others. Take in as much as you can handle objectively.

How can libraries leverage on the social capital of librarians?

  • Unlike financial capital that depreciates with use, social capital actually grows the more it is used. Reach out with information about what libraries are doing and how they can be supported to do more. Reciprocity happens! No, it’s not simplistic thinking. What librarians make happen to others, they will help to make happen to libraries. However, when our intentions are solely to ‘use’ people to achieve what we want, it can backfire badly.

  • Social capital accumulated by staff within an organisation can be leveraged to create more capital as who we know and how well we know them can help the leadership in a workplace tap into opportunities. Are libraries mapping or tracking the social capital of their staff? Are their researchers working on how connected librarians in their regions are adding value and how libraries can tap into such accumulated social capital for mentorship programs, advocacy and raising resources?

Time to get out of our silos. Start networking and building social capital. Libraries need it. Now!

We will be back next week with another interesting article from the library world!

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