Let’s Lift Up Rural Libraries

I’ve been quiet for a few weeks–shut down, I should say. There are some heavy things going on in the world around me, both in the country and in my personal life, and it’s made me feel very sensitive. This is one of only a couple time when I’ve been forced by outside events to grow rapidly. I’m emerging from my thoughts and meditations on these things so much more aware of the people around me and their struggles.

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So tonight I want to talk about something that I think is a struggle for a lot of people like me. I’ve talked about my journey to becoming a rural librarian and described my week as one. What I haven’t talked about are some of the issues that come with being a rural librarian. Today I’d like to talk about the isolation and everything that contributes to it.

First thing you need to know is that a lot of us are geographically set apart from other libraries and librarians. To be in a rural community often means that you’re distant from nearby cities, and that makes it hard for some of us to be in communication with our peers. When there’s this barrier to sharing ideas and having someone to rant to, people can shut down and stop trying new things.

Because there are some communication barriers, lots of rural librarians just aren’t aware yet that there are all kinds of resources awaiting them online. You guys, I’ve personally met librarians who are just getting on Pinterest. They don’t know about Storytime Underground or PLNs. Some aren’t even participating in listservs.

When rural librarians aren’t networking, they don’t get the reassurance of power in numbers. They don’t learn to speak up for themselves or raise each other up.

Some of the normal routes to networking– joining associations, attending conferences, or even taking webinars or continuing ed classes– are out of reach for us because we don’t have a budget for professional development. Really. Did you know some libraries don’t have money to pay for association memberships? I didn’t before I started working for one of those libraries.

Here’s what I’ve seen in my state, North Carolina.

For a mostly rural state, we have a jaw-dropping lack of support for rural and small-town libraries.

Our one library association, the NCLA, has no round table or section for us. We have do have a public library and youth services section. (Thanks for those. Let’s keep reaching, though, okay?)

There are no representatives from rural libraries or small-town libraries on the executive board. (I mean, who are we to inform how to support librarians?)

NCLA conferences are held every two years and typically take place around the center of the state. If you’re not familiar with your NC geography, that’s where you’ll find most of our metropolitan areas. Rural areas are more at the edges. Really, they could be holding them in the middle out of trying to be fair to everyone, so I won’t pick on them too much for this. The problem with having a state shaped like ours is that pretty much everyone has to drive a long way to get to training opportunities.

At our last NCLA conference, only 5 presentations out of 41 had presenters from small-town or rural libraries. (Possibly for all the reasons I listed above.)

If you can’t afford to be a member of the NCLA, you can still go to the conference, just at a greater cost. (Just what we needed!)

Our state library does offer continuing ed classes and webinars at low cost, some for free.

The state library does offer scholarship funds to help librarians attend the ARSL conference.

The state library supports youth services conferences each year for the discussion of summer reading. These are free to attend. Yay!

And that’s all you get.

So here are my feelings and thoughts on how to help rural and small-town librarians.

I’ve learned recently that when you have power, every now and then, you should go out of your way to lift up the people who are struggling. Unfortunately, not having access to money or networking opportunities puts the little people in libraries like mine in a cycle of not being represented or included.

If you come from a library where you get to go to conferences, and belong to professional associations, and maybe you even sit on a board, maybe do what you can to represent the people who can’t. Maybe you can get permission to record the sessions and share them online for free. Or can you talk with your board about how changes could effect rural and small-town libraries? Can you campaign for the creation of some support system for rural libraries?

If you have some knowledge to share, consider taking it on the road to outlying libraries. Just offer and see if they might take you up on it. Some handy topics that come to mind are ESL programming, ECRR refreshers, outreach to seniors or home-bound patrons, building teen participation, working on a small budget. Pretty much if your library paid to learn something, consider whether or not you can share some of it for free.

If at all possible, host free networking events. I did this a couple months ago and had 25 librarians/parapros, MOSTLY rural and small-town representatives, attend. I live and work in an area that, while close to one city (which is medium-sized on an NC scale), is surrounded by mostly rural areas, so I was happy to offer some way for us to learn from each other.

If you meet a rural librarian at a conference or networking event, maybe reach out and make sure you give them your contact information. Convey that you’d love to share ideas. We need that. Lots of that.

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This is all I can think of at the moment, but maybe some of you more established librarians have some ideas too. Let’s discuss this, because I can’t imagine I’m in the only state that’s not doing such a great job of being there for the little people.

2 thoughts on “Let’s Lift Up Rural Libraries

  1. You are right to be on the mountain top shouting as well as being on the plains working to help people connect. On the positive side, getting the word out about the connectivity available online through social media and online CE is a huge step available since the 1990s (I can barely speak about the isolation pre-internet). I think your leadership creates the awareness. Back in the day when our state association youth services section was unrepresented and unheard, we supported each other to leadership on the board and created change. Every movement begins with one and then two and then five and then ten being passionate enough to stand up and say “Listen!”. Your call for all librarians to join in the support of our peers at small and rural libraries is just as important. Thanks for getting this conversation out on your blog!

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