Diversity & Outreach Columns ALA's Office for Diversity, Literacy and Outreach Services


Reinventing the Rural Library

Melinda Tanner

By Melinda Tanner

This post is the second in a series from the ALA Committee on Rural, Native, and Tribal Libraries of All Kinds and the Association for Rural & Small Libraries exploring qualities of leadership in rural and tribal libraries.

In today’s struggling economy, many businesses have closed. Others are doing things they never thought they’d do to stay in business. A perfect example is McDonald’s. On a recent visit, the manager was pushing their soft baked chocolate chip cookies. He said, “Boy, never thought we would be baking cookies at McDonald’s.” My reply was, “or making mocha frappes and fruit smoothies or serving oatmeal for breakfast.” Businesses are reinventing themselves for the sake of sustainability.

There is a sign on our staff bulletin board that reads: “Blessed are those who are flexible for they shall not break.” Rural and small librarianship requires flexibility in the ever changing landscape of our communities. Flexibility will allow libraries to address the unique needs of their communities. Flexibility will position libraries as valuable community solutions... whatever the challenge.

As funding has decreased and the number of unique community agencies has dwindled, the role of the public libraries has changed. We are filling the service voids within our communities. Libraries have a history and reputation for doing more in times of less. These past few years have been no exception. Small and rural libraries are demonstrating their value by doing whatever it takes by being flexible to meet the needs within their community. Libraries are doing things they may not have ever imagined they would. Some examples I’ve seen in Southwestern Pennsylvania include:

A very small library (two rooms in an old storefront) opens its doors once a week to a local diagnostic lab. Patients needing regular blood draws know they can have it done every Tuesday at the library. They no longer need to drive the 40 plus miles to the nearest hospital or out-patient facility.

In a different area, the library has become the community center. They offer classes in yoga, self-defense, and healthy eating for diabetics. You can also rent a room for a baby shower or birthday party. Another library will even provide programming including stories and crafts for birthday parties held within their facility.

In light of the recent influx of Marcellus Shale related industries, small and rural libraries are serving as research centers for assistance with property rights, deed location and heirs for mineral rights from generations past. The director of a small library was asked to help with the nearly 100 children of out-of-state drillers living at a local hotel during the summer. Summer reading programs are now taking place at the hotel!

The label “rural” in 2012 STILL means that the library is most likely the only place around with free Wi-Fi and free computers. Libraries are the go-to spot for assistance and are still offering beginner technology classes as many residents find themselves at a loss with applications and forms available only online.

Gone are the days of traditional libraries and traditional library services! Gone are the days of traditional library leaders. Library leadership involves creativity, flexibility and nontraditional thinking. And, like McDonald’s, libraries everywhere are “reinventing themselves” for the sake of sustainability--especially small and rural libraries.

No one is baking cookies…yet.

Melinda Tanner is a District Consultant Librarian for the public libraries in Washington, Greene and Fayette Counties in Southwestern Pennsylvania.  She has been an active voice for rural & small libraries, founding a rural and small libraries roundtable for the Pennsylvania Library Association.  Melinda is a member of ARSL.


New online gallery highlights selected artwork from Coretta Scott King Book Awards winning and honor titles

The Coretta Scott King Book Awards Illustrations Gallery is a new feature on the Coretta Scott King Book Awards website.  The gallery includes beautiful, large images from the award-winning and honor titles, and showcases the outstanding illustrators who have received the award.  We hope the gallery will inspire you to read these beloved books in your library, your classroom, and your home.

The Coretta Scott King Book Awards Committee is dedicated to celebrating and promoting the artistic expression of the African American experience through literature and the graphic arts.  We are excited to celebrate the contributions of Coretta Scott King Book Award Winner and Honor illustrators in a new and exciting way!

Check back often for new additions, and happy browsing!


Community Workshop Series: An academic library, public libraries, and library school collaboration

Ellie Boote (left) and Dani Brecher (right) – Coordinators of the Community Workshop Series

By Amanda Foster, Carolina Academic Library Associate

University of North Carolina - Chapel Hill

Each Friday and Saturday morning, members of the Chapel Hill, Durham, and Carrboro communities make their way to their local public library to attend a computer or information literacy class put on by the Community Workshop Series (CWS). But before you think this is another case of traditional public library computer class offerings, keep reading to learn about the unique partnership that brought the CWS about.

The CWS was started in 2005 by a SILS graduate assistant working at The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill’s Undergraduate Library. Since 2006, UNC University Libraries has funded a graduate assistant whose responsibilities include organizing the CWS. Current UNC SILS student, Ellie Boote, is the Coordinator of Community Workshops. Each week, she schedules a volunteer instructor and floaters to staff around three classes per week. Classes are offered throughout the Research Triangle at the Carrboro Cybrary, Chapel Hill Public Library and the Durham County Southwest Regional Library. Last year, 255 members of the community attended a class.

One of the primary audiences of CWS classes is job-seekers wanting to build their computer skills. Classes on applications in the Microsoft Office Suite are the most popular for job-seekers, as are classes on resume writing and online job searching. Courses on online shopping, social networking, finding health information, and creating e-mail accounts are also popular.  Recently, the CWS began offering “Open Labs,” at some locations. Open Labs allow community members to bring their own projects to the library and receive help from a CWS volunteer.

Another primary audience for CWS classes is older adults wanting to learn more about computers because their children are using them. Dani Brecher, another SILS graduate student who will be the Coordinator of Community Workshops for the 2012-2013 academic year, says one of the more rewarding aspects of leading CWS classes is having participants come back later and say they’ve used their newly created e-mail accounts to send pictures and notes to out of state relatives.

Recently, the CWS has been reaching out to other organizations in the community. Boote has noted an increase in referrals from Parent University, with the goal of getting parents up to speed on current technology so they can help their children with their homework.

The workshops are staffed almost exclusively by student volunteers from UNC’s School of Information and Library Science and librarians from UNC University Libraries. In a way, the CWS serves the purposes of both the participants and the volunteers. Because the majority of CWS volunteers are current SILS students, they gain valuable instruction experience which will help them on the job market.

In 2007, the CWS won the ACRL Instruction Session Innovation Award. Since then the CWS has continued to be a unique example of collaboration between an academic library, public libraries, and students from a library school. CWS allows UNC Libraries to give back to the local community by offering computer and information literacy classes while also helping library school students gain much-needed instruction experience.

Would you like to learn more about CWS? Check out their website.