Monday, October 21, 2013

Public libraries are 'lifelines for rural communities'

Whatever the changes in rural American communities, the public library remains one constant that has something for everybody. There are 8,956 public libraries in the U.S., with 77.1 percent considered small (populations less than 25,000) and 46.8 percent in areas categorized as rural, according a report by the Institute of Museum and Library Services. Only 16 percent of the U.S. population is rural. In fiscal year 2011, there were 167.6 million recorded visits to rural public libraries, a 4.2 percent increase since 2008, and 301.2 million visits to small libraries, a 4.6 percent increase since 2008.

One reason for the success of rural libraries, which we have noted before, is access to the Internet. Perhaps the bigger reason for the success of rural libraries is something that is rarely offered by anyone else in our consumer-drive society, a public meeting place with free access to a multitude of items, with no demand to purchase something and move along. In fact, most libraries encourage people to spend as much time as needed enjoying the services.

For places such as Myrtle, Mo., a town of 300 in the Ozarks that doesn't even have a bank or a restaurant, the one-room public library is a perfect place for residents to congregate. And new librarian Rachel Reynolds has taken to social media to get the library filled with goodies. With the library only getting $200 a month for books and supplies, Reynolds has used the Internet to seek donations, already garnering 1,000 books since taking over four months ago, Jennifer Davidson reports for NPR. (Davidson photo: Librarian Rachel Reynolds checks out a book to visitor Phyllis Smith)

Tena Hanson of the Association for Rural and Small Libraries told Davidson, "Often, the library is the only place in a small community that people can go to access technology, to fill out job applications, to continue their learning." Hanson said "libraries in remote places are lifelines for rural communities, because the Internet doesn't always reach towns with rugged terrain," Davidson reports.

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