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Trust in Libraries and Trust in Most People: Social Capital Creation in the Public Library

Studies of the creation of social trust and social capital indicate that informal social contact has a positive effect. Some studies find that uncorrupt public institutions have positive effects on trust and social capital. Additionally, a number of papers show that public libraries have a similar effect. The mechanisms that generate trust, however, remain largely unspecified. Therefore, research describing micro-level processes is needed to uncover the mechanisms creating trust. This article reports a study of change in social trust among first-generation Mexican immigrants who participated in English as a second language (ESL) classes, computer classes, and civics classes in six US public libraries. These students displayed little trust outside their family and friends; however, after participating in library programs, they became more trusting of the library, the librarians, their fellow students, and other library users. These effects can be considered a starting point for a spiral of increasing generalized trust among the students.