Thursday, December 22, 2011

Rural Libraries and their Communities

Although we are only 30 miles from a mid-sized city, Brigham City is considered a rural community and as such we have a unique, and some say, enviable lifestyle. The library in a small town is a gathering place and activity center, going beyond just circulating books. Here are some interesting things about smaller libraries that you may not know:

1. Each small town library is unique. Whether it is architecture, hours of operation, types of patrons or personality of the staff, no two libraries are the same. Even those old-fashioned Carnegie building are individualistic.

2. Patrons are flocking to their local libraries to use the Internet. Whether for homework or genealogy research, social media or even job hunting, the use of library computers has exploded. People who have not visited a library in a while will be surprised to see numerous computers in use by patrons.

3. Job seekers are using the library to find employment, build resumes and even learn job skills. Online classes and databases are available to use for those seeking to learn new skills.

4. There are after-school issues and opportunities. In some libraries, after-school time is inspiring. Students come in ready to do homework and research. But in some communities libraries are used as day care centers. Teens who have no adult supervision after school have been known to arrive shortly after school and stay until closing time.

5. Libraries are becoming more involved in their communities.  Libraries are going out to nursing homes, day care centers and even jails to offer all types of reading and learning programs. Books on wheels programs offer library books to those who are shut in and not able to visit.

6. Community rooms are being used by the community. In rural communities the two “community” places are churches and libraries. Libraries offer their  rooms for civic club meetings and other gatherings of a community nature.

7. The personality of the librarian and staff is important. People come to know and respect the librarian who has recommended books or taught them in a community education class. A librarian becomes a resource for parents and a friend to children who visit.

8. Many elected officials and other funders do not have library cards. Libraries rely on funding from many sources, not the least of which is often the small town or county in which they are located. If these policy makers are not library users and advocates they may not understand the role the library plays in the community.

9. Technology has made a dramatic change in libraries. In 1996, only 28 percent of libraries offered Internet access. Today almost every library offers this service. Consider the implications of e-books, e-readers and online services in general and the impact it is making in the way people get information.

10. Libraries are safe places. Libraries are places where nobody asks why a patron checks out a certain book or needs a certain service.

Gone are the days when a person went to the local library to do nothing more than check out a book and return it or renew it later. Small town libraries have become a provider of numerous services to their communities. Their future will be one of expanding those services even more. The communities that support those services will have a  more vibrant, educated and engaged population.

Michele, Children's Librarian

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