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Public libraries as reserves of cultural and digital capital: addressing inequality through digitalization
Public libraries are among key sites for the acquisition of cultural capital, and possibly one of the most potent means through which the state can address inequality. While digitalization of public libraries already attracted significant scholarly attention, the evidence of its contribution to the acquisition of cultural skills and knowledge and social mobility remains limited, as does the conceptual understanding of links between digitalization, cultural capital, and social stratification. This article draws on two disconnected bodies of research, the sociological analysis of cultural capital and stratification and research on digital divides. To bridge these two bodies of research, the interplay of cultural and digital capital in public libraries was investigated. The extensive dataset from the UK Taking Part Survey (2016-17) was analysed using two-step cluster analysis and multinomial regression models to explore the contrasting profiles of contemporary library users. Results identify four distinct user groups: Traditional, Active, Family, and Tech Access, which possess different degrees of cultural and digital capital, have different demographic profiles, and benefit from digitalized libraries in different ways. If libraries are to fulfil their role in reducing social inequalities, it is important that they tailor their digital services to the specific characteristics of each user group. This approach also provides a useful template for exploring the interplay of digitalization and (in)equality in other cultural institutions.
- Social Sciences and Humanities
- Communication and Media
- Social and Policy Studies