Welcome to my latest series, titled Relevant at Any Size, where the focus of the posts will be on small, small-ish, and rural libraries and what they’re doing and overall what they mean to the communities they serve. I enjoyed creating what amounts to a column with the A New Career in a New Town series so we’re gonna try that themed format with these posts once again. I also want to thank Andrew Cano for the title. I struggled with this title for (more on that later) a workshop I will be offering at the 2018 NLA/NSLA Joint Conference and Andrew came up with it. Brilliant!
I’ve been at my library now for three years and in that time I have come to see two things about small/rural libraries:
They are a lifeline, a vital resource in connecting these small/rural communities to the rest of our country.
We open our doors at the Benson Memorial Library every morning and for the 8-11 hours we are open that day we see it all. We still check out a lot of physical books and movies to community members. We help them scan, fax, and copy important documents they need to for their lives. We get them on the internet so they can do what they need. We connect them to their families through our local history and genealogy services. We provide the youth in our region with free events and a space to socialize, relax, and grow. All of this may seem like little things to the casual observer and the people who question why we still have libraries, but when you see day in and day out the importance these “little things” have on the lives of these people you start to understand how vital libraries are to small/rural communities these days. They connect people to something that they’re seeking. That something is different for every person that walks through the door, but that something is extremely important in building a happy, healthy, and growing community. Actions, kindness, and day to day tasks matter. When the public library is there to help an individual and then this is multiplied thousand of times each week, positivity spreads through a community. When there is positivity, there is growth and forward motion. This metric cannot be measured easily (if at all), but we all know it is there. And in the small/rural communities of America, this growth and forward motion is much needed in the world we live in today. My hope is that if we can share our stories about the happenings in small/rural public libraries that we can get to a point where people better understand the lifeline these libraries create for their communities.
They’re not talked about as much as they should in the professional library sphere.
One of the things that I’ve noticed during my time working in a small/rural public library was that there seems to be a very large lack of coverage about what’s happening in these types of libraries. In our library land professional publications, what’s pushed to the forefront is often the latest, greatest, and biggest libraries and their events and initiatives. While I believe there is good things that come from seeing the things these bigger public libraries are doing (inspiration!) at the same time when there is a focus just on the biggest libraries it creates a gap in how public libraries see themselves. After seeing only big public library stuff in the professional library sphere, small/rural public libraries and their librarians start to say things like “well that’s good for them, but I could never pull that off” or “it would take us years to get there”. These comments, built up over enough time, bring a negativity to the profession and the conversation around libraries. It creates a gap between the libraries that can do stuff and the libraries that want to do stuff but can’t seem to pull it off due to any number of factors.
We should talk more about what small/rural public libraries are doing and also what they can do with a little effort. When we share these stories and these ideas, we start to break down the myth that small/rural libraries are behind the times and are inferior to the big, cutting edge stuff of the bigger public libraries out there. Small/rural libraries are providing extremely necessary and important services day to day and at the same time there are many of them providing some new, cutting edge ideas for their communities. They’re just not talked about enough. Let’s fix that. Do you work in a small/rural public library and have something to share? Email me at this email address and we can have a chat. I’ll then take that chat and put it up here on this website under the Relevant at Any Size category. Let’s share our ideas, our programs, our events, and how we as small/rural public libraries are doing important work.
With that, I’d like to bring attention to the image in this post. This was a Facebook message sent to our library from someone that recently visited our area. Here’s what stood out to me:
“…while visiting from out of town, I was in need of several services that the library offered. I was pleasantly surprised at the types of services offered considering it is located in a small town. The most impressive in my opinion was the ability to self transfer VHS tapes to digital format at no charge. I live in a large city and not only do the libraries not offer this ability, you would have to take them to someone else and pay them to do it. The staff at the library were all very kind, knowledgeable and willing to help.”
I’m sharing this because it highlights what I mentioned above: there are small/rural public libraries out there providing new, cutting edge ideas for their communities and these are the public libraries leading the way forward. Innovation isn’t something that just happens at the big public libraries. It happens in all public librarians. If you are a small/public librarian and you are reading this, I hope that this provides you with the inspiration to go out there and do whatever you heart compels you to do for your library. Because guess what? YOU and YOUR library are great, and you can do whatever you want.
This October, I will head to Lincoln, NE to be part of the 2018 NLA/NSLA Joint Conference where I will give a Preconference Workshop with the same name as these posts. I am excited about this, as it has been a few years since I’ve done a workshop like this and it will be the first time doing a workshop on this topic. I kind of got stuck in a rut with talking about Youth Services and all of the things that happened at the Chattanooga Public Library when it came to keynotes and workshops. I felt burned out. This opportunity will change that, and I hope it will also add a great deal of inspiration to the small/rural librarians out there that want to take their library game to the next level.
Relevant at Any Size: Strategic Thinking for Small and Rural Libraries
Small and Rural Libraries are not just little libraries lost out in the middle of nowhere: they are the centers of their community, providing essential resources to so many Americans. Even though budgets these days are flat and libraries are being asked to do more, these libraries are the ones doing some of the most essential community based work in the country. Be it through their programs, their personalized services, or the simple day to day things they do for their guests, small and rural libraries are making an impact and helping many Americans navigate the many changes in our modern society. In this workshop, attendees will learn new strategies, program ideas, and customer service ideas for how their small and rural library can make the leap to the next level of library service for their community without busting the budget or needing more staff.
Nebraska, I look forward to seeing you in October and to all the readers here I look forward to sharing these stories with you over the next few months.