Rural and Small Public Libraries: Challenges and Opportunities: Volume 43

Cover of Rural and Small Public Libraries: Challenges and Opportunities
Subject:

Table of contents

(11 chapters)

Prelims

Pages i-xvi
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Abstract

This chapter analyzes the ways national, international, and library professional policies address Internet access as a human right. This includes documenting the ways rural libraries fulfill their patrons’ human right to the Internet and demonstrating how Mathiesen’s (2014) framework can be used by library professionals and policymakers to ensure that people have physical, intellectual, and social access to the Web. The author’s intention is to help facilitate a more meaningful definition of access that goes beyond just providing hardware access to bridge the digital divide, but instead asserts the need for librarian assistance and technology training if we wish to allow all members of a society, without exception, to fully enjoy their human rights.

The author analyzes existing national and international policies pertaining to providing information and Internet access in rural and otherwise underserved areas, as well as precedents involving the deployment of previous information and communication technologies (ICTs) in rural areas. This segues into an analysis of barriers to rural Internet access using facets and determinants developed by Mathiesen, leading to the argument that rural librarians’ ability to help underserved populations use the Internet is essential to making Web access meaningful.

  • The United Nations (UN) has supported arguments that people have a right to information access and the technologies that support this, suggesting that Internet access is a human right.

  • The U.S. government has a history of facilitating access to ICTs in rural areas that dates back to 1934 and continues through the present.

  • Funding mechanisms that facilitate Web access in the United States focus primarily on making broadband connections, hardware, and software accessible, leaving out the essential training and assistance components that are essential to making many rural residents and other underserved persons able to actually use the Internet.

The United Nations (UN) has supported arguments that people have a right to information access and the technologies that support this, suggesting that Internet access is a human right.

The U.S. government has a history of facilitating access to ICTs in rural areas that dates back to 1934 and continues through the present.

Funding mechanisms that facilitate Web access in the United States focus primarily on making broadband connections, hardware, and software accessible, leaving out the essential training and assistance components that are essential to making many rural residents and other underserved persons able to actually use the Internet.

Scholarship on rural libraries, including some of the research in this volume, has argued that rural public libraries provide an invaluable service by offering both access to and guidance in using the Internet. While these publications commonly discuss the socioeconomic benefits of providing this access, they often treat the motivation for providing such services as self-evident. This chapter analyzes policies and legal precedents to argue that Internet access for rural residents, through public libraries and other means, is not merely a privilege that will benefit people if funded, but instead a human right that cannot be ignored.

Abstract

This chapter analyzes major trends in rural public libraries, beginning with a discussion of changes in service offerings since the advent of the Internet. These outlets are now better able to help patrons with their employment, education, and civic engagement needs than they have been at any point in the past. However, rural public libraries still lag behind their peers in broadband speeds, technological infrastructure, and various forms of service and training offerings that use these technologies. The difference in public offerings is not only due to problems of technology, but also limited funding for staff, aging and small buildings, and a lack of state and regional support to allow these libraries to achieve economies of scale. As libraries nationwide shift to focus more on public programming and digital offerings, these factors will be barriers to rural outlets keeping up with modern trends in the field.

This study uses Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) and Digital Inclusion Survey data to analyze trends among rural public libraries. The authors returned to the original data sets from these studies to find nuance between types of rural outlets, primarily dividing this information based on libraries’ distances from more densely populated areas. These statistical data are supplemented through qualitative interviews with professionals in the rural library field. Key findings include:

  • Rural public libraries have made major strides in improving broadband quality and increasing related service offerings since the advent of the Internet in the mid-1990s.

  • Rural libraries still lag behind those in more populated areas in terms of technical infrastructure and training offerings, and this becomes more acute among those located farther from population centers.

  • As the public library field places a greater emphasis on public programs, rural libraries’ small and aging buildings will likely be a barrier to them keeping up with their peers.

  • The lack of regional consortia and strong state libraries in some parts of the country limits rural libraries’ abilities to achieve economies of scale and negatively impacts the range of services they can offer their patrons.

Rural public libraries have made major strides in improving broadband quality and increasing related service offerings since the advent of the Internet in the mid-1990s.

Rural libraries still lag behind those in more populated areas in terms of technical infrastructure and training offerings, and this becomes more acute among those located farther from population centers.

As the public library field places a greater emphasis on public programs, rural libraries’ small and aging buildings will likely be a barrier to them keeping up with their peers.

The lack of regional consortia and strong state libraries in some parts of the country limits rural libraries’ abilities to achieve economies of scale and negatively impacts the range of services they can offer their patrons.

Rural libraries have often been combined together in statistical analyses of their service offerings. This chapter shows nuance between these outlets, demonstrating that libraries that are distant and remote from population centers face more difficulties than those on the fringes of cities and suburbs. Likewise, while much of the advocacy surrounding rural libraries has focused on the need for improved broadband and technological infrastructure, this study moves on to study how building infrastructure, low staff funding, and a lack of mechanisms for collaboration will hinder libraries’ abilities to keep up with modern changes in the field.

Abstract

This chapter explores differences in fringe, distant, and remote rural public library assets for asset-based community development (ABCD) and the relationships of those assets to geographic regions, governance structures, and demographics.

The author analyzes 2013 data from the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) and U.S. Department of Agriculture using nonparametric statistics and data mining random forest supervised classification algorithms.

There are statistically significant differences between fringe, distant, and remote library assets. Unexpectedly, median per capita outlets (along with service hours and staff) increase as distances from urban areas increase. The Southeast region ranks high in unemployment and poverty and low in median household income, which aligns with the Southeast’s low median per capita library expenditures, staff, hours, inventory, and programs. However, the Southeast’s relatively high percentage of rural libraries with at least one staff member with a Master of Library and Information Science promises future asset growth in those libraries. State and federal contributions to Alaska libraries propelled the remote Far West to the number one ranking in median per capita staff, inventory, and programs.

This study is based on IMLS library system-wide data and does not include rural library branches operated by nonrural central libraries.

State and federal contributions to rural libraries increase economic, cultural, and social capital creation in the most remote communities. On a per capita basis, economic capital from state and federal agencies assists small, remote rural libraries in providing infrastructure and services that are more closely aligned with libraries in more populated areas and increases library assets available for ABCD initiatives in otherwise underserved communities.

Even the smallest rural library can contribute to ABCD initiatives by connecting their communities to outside resources and creating new economic, cultural, and social assets.

Analyzing rural public library assets within their geographic, political, and demographic contexts highlights their potential contributions to ABCD initiatives.

Abstract

This chapter presents a gap analysis of the perspectives of small businesses and rural librarians in Tennessee in order to develop an implementation blueprint of a public library small business toolkit, a resource that the state’s rural public libraries can create for small businesses in the future.

The chapter reports on select comparison data sets collected via two exploratory online surveys with small businesses and rural public librarians, respectively, in an externally funded planning grant awarded by the Institute of Museum and Library Services’ National Leadership Grants for Libraries (Research category) to the School of Information Sciences at the University of Tennessee.

Findings from the gap analysis of the perspectives of small businesses and rural librarians provide similarities and differences between the two stakeholder groups in terms of

  • existing assistance needs of small businesses,

  • information-related challenges small businesses experience,

  • desired public library use, and

  • information-related components of a public library small business toolkit.

existing assistance needs of small businesses,

information-related challenges small businesses experience,

desired public library use, and

information-related components of a public library small business toolkit.

The study is a unique example of action research based on varied levels of participation in rural research and action, learning through collaboration, community inquiry into everyday experiences and potential impact, use of mixed methods, and the situated nature of applications and concrete outcomes. It serves as a pilot case experience and prototype assessment test bed to expand strategies for the entire Appalachian region and other rural environments in the future.

Purpose

This chapter discusses the application of community informatics (CI) principles in the rural Southern and Central Appalachian (SCA) region to further the teaching of information and communication technologies (ICT) literacy concepts in courses that formed part of two externally funded grants, “Information Technology Rural Librarian Master’s Scholarship Program Part I” (ITRL) and “Part II” (ITRL2), awarded by the Institute of Museum and Library Services’ (IMLS) Laura Bush 21st Century Librarian Program to the School of Information Sciences (SIS) at the University of Tennessee (UT).

Design/Methodology/Approach

The chapter documents ICT use in ITRL and ITRL2 to extend librarian technology literacy training, allowing these public information providers to become change agents in the twenty-first century. It discusses aspects of CI that influenced these two projects and shaped the training of future rural library leaders embedded in traditionally underrepresented areas to further social justice and progressive changes in the region’s rural communities.

Findings

The chapter demonstrates the role that CI principles played in the context of ITRL and ITRL2 from project inception to the graduation of the rural librarians with examples of tangible IT services/products that the students developed in their courses that were directly applicable and tailored to their SCA contexts.

Originality/Value

ITRL and ITRL2 provided a unique opportunity to apply a CI approach to train information librarians as agents of change in the SCA regions to further economic and cultural development via technology and management competencies. These change agents will continue to play a significant role in community building and community development efforts in the future.

Abstract

This chapter deploys qualitative interviews with employees of rural South Carolina cultural institutions to assess the state of their rural community archives in order to understand both the practices and needs of the institutions within their relationship to larger, traditional archives with the aim to better understand national trends around community archives.

The research uses open-ended qualitative interviews based on snowball sampling focused on cultural institutions in populations defined as “rural” by the state of South Carolina. Using snowball sampling allowed for communities to self-identify other cultural institutions previously overlooked in surveys of rural South Carolina archival holdings.

Findings from the interviews provide new community-defined understandings of both practices and needs of rural community archives. Valuable insights include the following:

  • A clear awareness on the part of rural community archives of their relationship to larger practices of archiving

  • Notable moments of creativity by rural community archives concerning long-term self-sustenance

  • A continued need for low-cost, low-barrier methods of digital outreach for both preservation and communication

  • A more direct stream of access to grant funding favoring community archival practitioners over user-based research funding

A clear awareness on the part of rural community archives of their relationship to larger practices of archiving

Notable moments of creativity by rural community archives concerning long-term self-sustenance

A continued need for low-cost, low-barrier methods of digital outreach for both preservation and communication

A more direct stream of access to grant funding favoring community archival practitioners over user-based research funding

While many examples of community-based archival practice exist within British, Australian, and New Zealand research, such studies remain sparse and entity specific within the United States. This continued lack of case studies and models for understanding and aiding rural, community archives within the United States is only amplified when divided by regions and states. By focusing directly on the concerns of practitioners working to preserve and make available localized histories, this research illuminates both the incredible agency of rural community cultural institutions while re-conceptualizing the needs of such groups.

Abstract

This chapter presents a historical analysis of how rural and small libraries have traditionally used nontheatrical film, including a discussion of how bookmobiles presented these materials to persons in broader service areas. After establishing the entertainment and educational benefits patrons historically received from the screening of these materials, the author transitions to discuss how recently established regional film archives and other organizations have made significant strides in recent years in preserving motion pictures that document local and regional culture. The chapter concludes with an analysis of how rural and small libraries can work with regional motion picture archives to design screenings and other programs that fulfill traditional roles of entertaining and educating patrons while also reaffirming local cultural identity.

Summative research and archival sources provide the foundations for the discussion of the role and purpose of film in rural and small libraries. Specific libraries and collections serve as case studies.

  • Small-gauge motion pictures were popular with rural library and bookmobile patrons during the first three-quarters of the twentieth century, bringing entertainment and information to persons who normally had limited options in these areas due to geographic barriers.

  • Regional film archives and nontheatrical film advocacy organizations have emerged during recent decades, collecting previously overlooked materials that can help reaffirm local and regional culture.

  • Several regional film archives have already collaborated with rural and small libraries as well as other local institutions, providing a roadmap for libraries that wish to expand their cultural-heritage-oriented ­programming.

Small-gauge motion pictures were popular with rural library and bookmobile patrons during the first three-quarters of the twentieth century, bringing entertainment and information to persons who normally had limited options in these areas due to geographic barriers.

Regional film archives and nontheatrical film advocacy organizations have emerged during recent decades, collecting previously overlooked materials that can help reaffirm local and regional culture.

Several regional film archives have already collaborated with rural and small libraries as well as other local institutions, providing a roadmap for libraries that wish to expand their cultural-heritage-oriented ­programming.

Numerous scholars have published studies on regional and local nontheatrical film in recent decades, but relatively little has been written to connect these films with their value to rural public libraries and their constituents. By beginning with a historical analysis of how films have traditionally been of value to these audiences, the author is able to transition to presenting ideas on how nontheatrical works can continue to be of value in rural contexts. This has practical applications for rural libraries and other rural cultural organizations throughout the United States.

Abstract

This chapter discusses some of the challenges faced by tribal libraries. Considering the information provided throughout the rest of this volume, it is clear that some of the core issues—such as poor broadband availability, difficulties in achieving economies of scale, and barriers to collaboration—are shared between tribal institutions and rural libraries throughout the United States.

The chapter presents a brief review of the literature on tribal libraries, establishing how they compare with rural public libraries in the United States. The remainder of the chapter is designed as a conversation piece, with responses from interviews with librarians from two tribal libraries detailing how the challenges faced by these outlets parallel those faced by America’s rural libraries.

  • Tribal libraries face obstacles that are common among nontribal rural public libraries, such as poor broadband Internet availability, lack of funding, and geographic barriers that limit patron access.

  • Although public libraries exist in some tribal communities, other forms of libraries and cultural heritage institutions often fill the service roles that public libraries occupy in nontribal communities.

  • Public-oriented information institutions in tribal communities commonly preserve and promote tribal heritage, often as one of their primary purposes. Considering that this is often achieved on limited budgets, further documentation of these efforts could be useful for guiding nontribal rural public libraries that wish to do more to preserve and promote their local cultural heritage.

Tribal libraries face obstacles that are common among nontribal rural public libraries, such as poor broadband Internet availability, lack of funding, and geographic barriers that limit patron access.

Although public libraries exist in some tribal communities, other forms of libraries and cultural heritage institutions often fill the service roles that public libraries occupy in nontribal communities.

Public-oriented information institutions in tribal communities commonly preserve and promote tribal heritage, often as one of their primary purposes. Considering that this is often achieved on limited budgets, further documentation of these efforts could be useful for guiding nontribal rural public libraries that wish to do more to preserve and promote their local cultural heritage.

This study creates bridges between rural public libraries in the United States and tribal libraries, which are commonly studied as two separate phenomena. Although the authors document how these types of institutions differ from each other in significant ways, barriers of broadband access, geographic isolation, and lack of funding are common across both rural and tribal libraries. The information provided in this chapter shows that both types of institutions need solutions for similar problems.

Index

Pages 219-223
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Cover of Rural and Small Public Libraries: Challenges and Opportunities
DOI
10.1108/S0065-2830201743
Publication date
2017-11-10
Book series
Advances in Librarianship
Editor
Series copyright holder
Emerald Publishing Limited
ISBN
978-1-78743-112-6
eISBN
978-1-78743-111-9
Book series ISSN
0065-2830