Most of us have access to a wealth of information and a world of entertainment at our very fingertips, but that most traditional of institutions, the public library, endures. According to results of a Gallup poll released in 2020, “Visiting the library remains the most common cultural activity Americans engage in, by far.”
U.S. adults reported taking an average of 10.5 trips to the library in the previous year, which is more often than they reported engaging in other activities, including going to the movies, attending a live sporting event or attending a musical or theatrical performance.
According to LibraryData, the total number of library print book loans in Canada increased
34% from 2020 to 2021. While this is likely due to changing COVID-19 restrictions for public
libraries, it is a clear indication of the important role that libraries still play in people's lives.
A good read, and more
On the digital side, a record-setting 129 library systems surpassed one million digital checkouts (including in ebooks, audiobooks, digital magazines) in 2022. This includes library systems across North America, as well as in Australia, Germany, Malaysia, the UK, and New Zealand.
More and more, however, public libraries have become valued as more than just a way to find a good read. In recent blog posts we have explored the ways that libraries can make a difference to the populations they serve. Whether they are helping job-seekers find the resources they need, teaching patrons about media literacy, or supporting mental health in the community, librarians fulfill many key roles.
Small libraries are essential
Small libraries — ones that serve populations of 25,000 people or fewer, often in rural areas — provide many of the same services as their bigger counterparts.
As Emily Stochl noted in a 2021 Book Riot article, “All libraries are essential, but especially in rural communities, libraries play a significant role in educational programming, the delivery of resources, and community building.”
In some rural areas, for example, the public library might very well be the only place in town with good, reliable WiFi, which can be essential for people looking for jobs or even just a way to connect with the wider world. Some libraries even offer patrons the opportunity to check out a mobile WiFi HotSpot so they can connect to the internet at home.
However, small libraries often face big challenges, including the following:
Serving the needs of a diverse population
Like their peers at larger libraries, librarians at small and rural libraries must be prepared to meet the needs of a wide variety of patrons — but they are often in the position of delivering services despite limited resources.
Local elementary and secondary schools might not have their own libraries, but their students (and teachers) still require tools that will empower them to access the right information that will enable their research or academic work — and they count on that information being accessible and up-to-date.
A public library that offers PressReader is able to provide patrons with access to more than 7,000 high-quality publications from around the world, covering topics that range from business, science and technology to art and design, and beyond.
PressReader offers content from more than 120 countries in over 70 different languages, so readers from all over the world can stay connected to what’s happening locally and back home.
Whether they are researching a rapidly developing topic or just trying to keep abreast of the latest news, PressReader users can always find the most recent edition of publications like The Guardian, Newsweek, Foreign Affairs, El Pais, and thousands of others. And if they’re looking for an article from an earlier issue, they’ll be able to search PressReader’s catalog by date.
Being able to offer patrons digital resources such as PressReader can make a big difference to a library that has neither the physical space nor the budget to acquire a sizeable catalog of hard copies of books and periodicals.
Finding funding for library services
Funding is not an issue that is unique to small libraries, of course. However, as the American Library Association (ALA) points out, small and rural public libraries often have smaller operational budgets. As a result, budget cuts frequently go proportionally deeper than they might at other libraries.
Rebecca Freeman, Assistant Librarian at the University of South Carolina-Lancaster Medford Library, writes: “While budgets are very dependent on the institution that runs the library, it is important to remember that there are other means of funding. For some, those other funding sources might be the Friends of the Library. Seeking out grants is also a possibility, though the time required to do so may conflict with other challenges of small and rural libraries.”
Getting the word out
Small and rural libraries with limited budgets might consider launching a fundraising campaign. There are a number of ways to get the word out about such an initiative.
One way is to recruit influential leaders in the community and ask for their support. Teachers, business leaders and local government officials, for example, may be willing to advocate on behalf of the library and spread the news about its fundraising efforts. Programming Librarian (a website of the ALA’s Public Programs Office) recommends writing letters to local elected officials as a way to build key support relationships.
Libraries with PressReader can also use the platform’s Self-Pub feature to upload materials promoting their fundraising campaigns.
Staffing and professional development
As the American Library Association points out, staffing is the bane of many small and rural libraries, in that very few have enough staff for the work that needs doing. As a result, many librarians, when faced with a small staff, often find themselves in the stressful position of being called upon to do the work of multiple individuals.
Because technology is constantly changing and the role of the librarian is an ever-evolving one, professional development is a crucial part of librarianship.
It is important that library staff be able to attend conferences and other professional development programs, either in-person or online. Limited staffing can make it difficult or even impossible for staff members to find the time to participate in these activities.
If the library’s budget does not allow for the hiring of more librarians or other full-time staff, part-time staff and community volunteers can mitigate some of the problems.
In the event that conferences or workshops remain outside the realm of possibility, small and rural libraries can keep up with what other institutions are doing by joining regional or national organizations such as the Association for Rural and Small Libraries in the US.
Resources for libraries of all sizes
In Canada, the Canadian Federation of Library Associations offers a variety of resources for libraries of all sizes, while BookNet Canada is a great source of info on publishing, bookselling, and libraries in the country. (A couple of great examples of what BookNet does are its recent tally of the most-circulated books of 2022, and its 2021 report on public-library use across Canada.)
Library staff can also keep up with what’s happening in their field by using PressReader's My Topics feature. My Topics allows users to select various topics of interest (“libraries”, for example), then displays each one in a unique feed.
Rural libraries struggle with lack of public awareness
In rural areas and small population centers, public libraries have the potential to become important hubs in their communities, offering services that go above and beyond just providing an up-to-date catalog of great books. Many community residents may not be aware of all of the resources that their local library has to offer, however.
To remedy that and make meaningful connections within the local community, it can help to cultivate key partnerships. Local K-12 schools are a great place to start, as they may lack the ability to offer students sufficient resources and might not even have their own school libraries. Teachers can help by directing their pupils to the resources available at the local public library.
The doorway to learning
“From book reports on Dear Mr. Henshaw to PowerPoint presentations on Australia’s dugong population, make sure your local teachers understand that the doorway to learning is just across the road at their local library,” Mango advises. “Once you begin to build lasting relationships in schools, many teachers will even begin to turn to libraries for presentations, demos and local field trips.”
For small and rural libraries that offer PressReader, keeping existing patrons informed about what’s happening at their local branch is simple thanks to Self-Pub. In just a few easy steps, staff can digitize and upload the library’s own collateral right to the front page of PressReader to engage patrons with newsletters, event announcements, lists of recommended books, and more.
How is your small or rural library meeting its unique challenges? Send us an email and let us know what you're doing to create a better resource for your community. Plus, learn more about how we support libraries in their various initiatives.