Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Rural library in northeast Oregon gets creative to boost child participation by 143%

The Pajama Story Time and Stuffed Animal Sleepover
event has been a popular addition to the library
(Union-Bulletin photo by Michael Lopez)
A once struggling rural library in the Northwest has gotten creative to get children through the doors, Sheila Hagar reports for the Walla Walla Union-Bulletin. Since Erin Wells took over two years ago as library director at the Milton-Freewater Public Library just across the Washington-Oregon border, child participation has increased 143 percent and circulation by 35 percent.

"Experts say while most libraries around the nation have survived the e-book scare, they’ve had to evolve to stay relevant in a culture that reads digitally more often than print, and buys books online with the click of a button," Hagar writes. "That’s meant developing new ways to serve library patrons, and in rural areas it takes creativity to meet the challenge with what are often bare-bones budgets."

Through grants and community donations the library has been able to triple the size of space dedicated to children’s books and activities, Hagar writes. They also added a no-shush zone so children can be free to make noise and a teen room equipped with black chairs and video games. Wells told Hagar, “It’s no longer focused on how many books are getting checked out, but more about the programs, more about how to serve the community.”

Best Places map
Nationally, about 8,400 public libraries are located in rural areas, says a 2013 study by the Association for Rural & Small Libraries, Hagar writes. "That study found that declining budgets and how people perceive libraries are among the most serious concerns in rural settings." The study's authors wrote: “The aging of the small library workforce, coupled with the financing challenges facing many small libraries and the growing perception that libraries are no longer needed, suggest that small community libraries are facing, over the next decade, a fight for survival."

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