Libraries, Relevant at Any Size

Relevant at Any Size: You Just Have To Do It

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You just have to do it. 

I think that in every situation it is good if you have a mantra, and for me the mantrathat comes with working in a small rural public library has been that you just have to do it. There’s no way around the work that needs to be done in small rural libraries. You see it when it comes through the door in the people that you serve. In a small town, people have planted their roots and change comes hard to the community. When the world shifts, the big cities are often at the forefront of the excitement and energy that comes with this kind of change. The small towns, tucked away in blanket of trees shielded from highways and the hustle and bustle, see these shifts as a hassle, a threat to the easy going life they’ve crafted in their small town. The residents in these towns just got to where they needed to be and now there’s a change? It’s not an easy thing for these people to process.

So you open your doors as a small rural public library and in comes the community. They’re wandering, a bit lost in this modern world. They very much belong in this world, but they’ve yet to find their footing and steady themselves on this new ground. That’s where these small rural libraries come in. You just have to do it. It may not have been your ultimate goal in life to grow up to work in a public library, only to day in and day out help folks figure out how to successfully navigate setting up a two factor authentication on Gmail when they don’t have their own computer and their cell phone is one of those prepaid limited minutes & data kind of a deal. No one wants to waste their data getting 6 digit authentication codes from Gmail, especially when that data costs money and they’ve got very little money to start. You just have to do it. As a librarian, you take a deep breath in, pull up a chair, and navigate through the entire process with the library guest. The ability to have and trust in your patience is a must. Eventually you get through the entire process. It either works out and the library guest is happy or you just blame it on Google. They can take it.  🙂

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You get some texts at 6am saying that you’re Youth Services Librarian is gonna be out sick on the 2nd day of Summer Reading. But you know what?You just have to do it. You know it’s gonna be a very busy day but sick people always need to stay away from healthy people in a work setting, so you figure out the plan and you make it work. You just have to do it. You take some time yourself to sit back at the Summer Reading Sign up desk and help people out. Eventually a few other employees will trickle in and staffing will be OK for the rest of the day. You get through it. With a smile and a friendly voice, you welcome every child into the library, chat with their parents or grandparents, and you sign them up for summer reading. You help them get to wherever they need to be at that point in time. You just have to do it. There’s no other option. You do it, you make it work, and you put positivity out into the world through your work.

This is the mantra for the small rural library. As I read the mantra once again, it feels like it’s this mashup of mantras and American “pull yourself up by the bootstraps” ideology. I hate that ideology, but for some reason it works here. In the small rural public library, you know that your job is to make good things happen for the residents of your community. You know they’re struggling with the massive shifts happening in our world right now. You know they feel left behind and that they can’t keep up. They feel like everyone has forgotten about them. So you know the work you have ahead of you and what needs to be done. You go to your library every day and you say this to yourself: You just have to do it.

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Benson Memorial Library, Libraries, Relevant at Any Size

Relevant at Any Size: The Lifeline

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.

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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.