Title

Rural Libraries Extending Public Services

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Submission Type

Creative Format Contribution

Symposium Selection

A “new normal” agenda in a COVID-affected world

Keywords

Telehealth. Broadband, "Emergency Response" Partnerships

Abstract

The importance of small and rural libraries as the hub of the local information ecosystem is frequently underestimated and misunderstood. Often the stakeholders in these rural locations do not recognize their own potential. Rather than being a diluted version of their larger counterparts, these libraries should serve a different purpose in their communities. Because of limited local resources, these libraries serve a strategic role in extending public services. Attention needs to be focused on prioritizing essential information services and communicating the library’s value to the community. Library school faculty, the library field, and even the stakeholders of the small libraries need a fresh appreciation of their role. The COVID pandemic and resulting governmental changes in funding should be the impetus for a new agenda. We are the public-facing entities that can make the programs and services real.

Library Science curriculum includes required courses like an in-depth study of collection development and searching databases – skills that are rarely used in a small library. The Annual Report for the state library requires reporting on the number of items (books and media) in the collection, the value and age of the collection, and program attendance. Meanwhile, both organizations claim to emphasize community engagement over a transactional model.

In a small town, there are fewer local government workers to make things happen. The city manager might be busy digging ditches for sewer repair as opposed to planning for the future or even dealing with current “quality of life” issues. The small tax base and sparse staff mean city workers are spending their time on essential services. In an emergency, they are overwhelmed.

What is the library’s role in rural areas? Ensuring the well-being of the community can happen by working with internet providers to install equipment with a dedicated spectrum for low-income residents (the public can check out routers at the library) and installing neighborhood access stations throughout the area for people to use Wi-Fi, establishing a telehealth site, hosting community meetings to discuss local issues, and coordinating disaster response.

Amplifying the value of the work publicly is a strategic imperative. It is important because it creates opportunities that wouldn’t otherwise be available. This leads to increased funding. It is beneficial to provide inspiration and enhance the image of other small libraries. They do a lot more because often there are no other organizations equipped to provide those essential services.

77%, of the libraries, serve a population of less than 25,000, and according to the IMLS around half of the public libraries are located in an area designated as rural by the Public Libraries Survey.

Reference:

Chase, S. (2021) Innovative Lessons from Our Small and Rural Public Libraries, Journal of Library Administration, 61:2, 237-243, DOI: 10.1080/01930826.2020.1853473

Public libraries survey (2020, July 17). Retrieved June 23, 2021, from https://www.imls.gov/research-evaluation/data-collection/public-libraries-survey

Strover, S., Whitacre, B., Rhinesmith, C., & Schrubbe, A. (2020). The digital inclusion role of rural libraries: social inequalities through space and place. Media, Culture & Society, 42(2), 242–259. https://doi.org/10.1177/0163443719853504

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Rural Libraries Extending Public Services

The importance of small and rural libraries as the hub of the local information ecosystem is frequently underestimated and misunderstood. Often the stakeholders in these rural locations do not recognize their own potential. Rather than being a diluted version of their larger counterparts, these libraries should serve a different purpose in their communities. Because of limited local resources, these libraries serve a strategic role in extending public services. Attention needs to be focused on prioritizing essential information services and communicating the library’s value to the community. Library school faculty, the library field, and even the stakeholders of the small libraries need a fresh appreciation of their role. The COVID pandemic and resulting governmental changes in funding should be the impetus for a new agenda. We are the public-facing entities that can make the programs and services real.

Library Science curriculum includes required courses like an in-depth study of collection development and searching databases – skills that are rarely used in a small library. The Annual Report for the state library requires reporting on the number of items (books and media) in the collection, the value and age of the collection, and program attendance. Meanwhile, both organizations claim to emphasize community engagement over a transactional model.

In a small town, there are fewer local government workers to make things happen. The city manager might be busy digging ditches for sewer repair as opposed to planning for the future or even dealing with current “quality of life” issues. The small tax base and sparse staff mean city workers are spending their time on essential services. In an emergency, they are overwhelmed.

What is the library’s role in rural areas? Ensuring the well-being of the community can happen by working with internet providers to install equipment with a dedicated spectrum for low-income residents (the public can check out routers at the library) and installing neighborhood access stations throughout the area for people to use Wi-Fi, establishing a telehealth site, hosting community meetings to discuss local issues, and coordinating disaster response.

Amplifying the value of the work publicly is a strategic imperative. It is important because it creates opportunities that wouldn’t otherwise be available. This leads to increased funding. It is beneficial to provide inspiration and enhance the image of other small libraries. They do a lot more because often there are no other organizations equipped to provide those essential services.

77%, of the libraries, serve a population of less than 25,000, and according to the IMLS around half of the public libraries are located in an area designated as rural by the Public Libraries Survey.

Reference:

Chase, S. (2021) Innovative Lessons from Our Small and Rural Public Libraries, Journal of Library Administration, 61:2, 237-243, DOI: 10.1080/01930826.2020.1853473

Public libraries survey (2020, July 17). Retrieved June 23, 2021, from https://www.imls.gov/research-evaluation/data-collection/public-libraries-survey

Strover, S., Whitacre, B., Rhinesmith, C., & Schrubbe, A. (2020). The digital inclusion role of rural libraries: social inequalities through space and place. Media, Culture & Society, 42(2), 242–259. https://doi.org/10.1177/0163443719853504