As I prepare to head to Frisco, TX for the 2011 Association for Rural & Small Libraries conference, I thought I'd share what a few librarians have to say about what it means to lead a rural community's library. Enjoy.
"In a perfect rural library world, the library and staff become one with the community. Community is the key word because often, as in the case of Wister Public Library, we are the focal point (Coffee and Conversation, newspapers, local news), the business center (only free wireless, public copier/fax, wireless & Internet), the chief source of entertainment (DVDs, free Family Movie Night in the Park, etc) of the community. We identify a specific need and address it (drought programs, identity theft programs, etc). We make ourselves and services available to other more urgent needs of the community (Angel Tree every Christmas, first point of contact for Ministerial Alliance requests, back to school backpacks filled with school supplies). We help people make it through tough economic times (online unemployment filing, resume writing, monthly coupon exchange programs). We are friendly and flexible. And we listen."
- Leslie H. Langley, Wister Public Library, Southeastern Public Library System of Oklahoma in Wister, OK
"I would say that you have to learn, as anywhere, how to work with the folks who influence your community the most. I'm not saying that you should do anything untoward, just think of them, and let them know what's happening in your library. The rest of the community will expect them to 'know everything' (especially your fiscal court judges, county officials) and they don't like to be surprised or feel like they are kept in the dark. Let them know how important the community and the library is to you personally, especially if you are an 'outsider,' it will help the folks to welcome you more easily if they see that you are passionate about providing the best library possible."
- Joy Wandrey, Director, Washington County Public Library, in Springfield, KY
"Our policy handbook has Flexibility as Needed in large letters on its cover.
Be prepared to fill multiple roles, we collect food for our local food bank, act as a drop off point for UPS and Fed Ex packages, act as a local mail exchange, and share all the produce that we receive. We also know all the dogs in town and make certain that if they are found wandering, reunite them with their people."
- Abbie Zeltzer, Librarian, Patagonia Public Library, in Patagonia, AZ
"Being a rural librarian is not a job; it is an avocation! You care about each of your patrons, you call them by name as they walk in; you ask about their families. You have books ready for them because you know what they like. The job does not end when the library closes and you lock the door. To them you are the library. As you go about your day to day life you still interact with your patrons in your community. You are never 'off' the job! Be it answering questions in the grocery store, to dropping books off to someone sick on your way home from work. It is also the most rewarding job that you will ever have. I am so proud to be the face of the Gustine Branch Library for the past 19 1/2 years; with no plans of retirement on the horizon."
- Nola M Ramirez, Branch Manager, Gustine Branch Library in Gustine, CA
"Be ready to bend some rules. It is 'folksy' and you will see that 'little ole lady,' you just hit up for $4.99 for a damaged book while shopping at the grocery store. Your patrons are your neighbors. You go the extra mile for them and they will do the same for you. It is evident here at Christmas when we have a table full of goodies from our patrons, and Summer when we have produce galore.
- Michael Humphrey, Manager, White County Library in Cleveland, GA
"Know that rural is about community. The patrons in our town want personal service. Build relationships with them, know their name and learn what they like to read. Take time and speak with them a moment if you do not have a line. We keep a list of patrons with their favorite authors and subjects. Once in a while we have them look over a list and check things off again. Then when new books or items come in we let them know and ask them if they want to be placed on reserve for the item. We have a drive thru so patrons if they are disabled or sick can call us and have an item checked out to them. They come and ring the bell and we hand the item over to them. Now this means you must know your community and luckily we have staff who know the patrons."
- Melany Wilks, Library Director, Pioneer Memorial Library, in Colby, KS