Through ALA’s Libraries Transforming Communities: Focus on Small and Rural Libraries initiative, 567 libraries nationwide have received grants of up to $3,000 to support community engagement efforts. After examining reports from 443 of the participating libraries, we categorized the topics of discussion to identify common themes.
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libraries transforming communities focus on small and rural libraries
Through our evaluation of ALA's Libraries Transforming Communities (LTC): Focus on Small and Rural Libraries initiative, we’ve seen libraries reach out to their publics to assess needs, host discussions about pressing issues, and expand their roles as community centers.
When the staff at Waimea (Hawaii) Public Library learned that the county of Kauai needed their community’s feedback on development plans for a new 417-acre parcel of land, they saw an opportunity to continue the library’s engagement work. What the library staff could not have known was that it would also be an opportunity to be part of helping a community regain trust in its leaders.
One of the major issues small and rural libraries faced during the pandemic was planning programs while complying with local health guidelines. These libraries often have limited indoor space, making it difficult to maintain social distance when bringing in large groups of participants. The communities they serve may also lack reliable internet access, limiting access to virtual programming.
Libraries provide educational programming, a welcoming space, and access to computers and internet connection. This last point has become increasingly important during the pandemic, especially for libraries serving rural areas. In order to safely continue serving their communities, they have faced both the obstacles of switching to virtual programming and ensuring people can access it, on what is often a tiny budget.
It’s easy to imagine a successful program as a packed Zoom call or large outdoor gathering — but major change doesn’t necessarily require major turnout.
Through ALA's Libraries Transforming Communities (LTC): Focus on Small and Rural Libraries initiative, libraries engage their small communities in discussion around issues that matter. Here are the stories of two libraries whose programs started small.
The Libraries Transforming Communities: Focus on Small and Rural Libraries initiative supports small and rural libraries to engage their communities in discussion around issues that matter. However, the most important topics to talk about are often the most controversial. Here are two stories of how librarians prepared for difficult conversations.
Igiugig Village ("iggy-AH-gig") has a population of 70. Located in southwestern Alaska on the south bank of the mouth of the Kvichak River and Lake Iliamna, its population consists primarily of Yup’ik Alaska Natives. As a tiny and remote community of people who live close to the land, villagers rely on salmon as the main food source and have a passion for sustainability and clean energy.
Keene is a working-class community located in New Hampshire, one of the most racially homogenous states in the country. Living as a person of color in a predominately white community can be an isolating experience, but race is an important conversation topic no matter where one lives. Librarian Gail Zachariah of Keene Public Library created conversation programs with the goal of helping Keene residents learn from and understand one another.
“It was the scariest thing I’ve ever done at my library.” This is how Julie Perrin, director of the Jaffrey Public Library in Jaffrey, New Hampshire, describes a virtual conversation she recently hosted on gender identity. The topic itself wasn’t scary; Perrin was worried about her community’s reaction.