80% of the libraries are classi;ed as rural.
It is safe to say that small and rural
libraries are truly essential to many people across the country. And even as city
libraries are experiencing a decline in
usage on a per-capita basis, the usage of
small and rural libraries is increasing,
according to the IMLS.
This increase is similar to the spike in
use one might see after a hurricane—
when the power goes out, people ;ock to
the local library for electricity. The
storm, in this case, has been the miserable economy, which has so crimped social
and education programs, that small and
rural libraries across the country have
stepped into the breach to provide power
of a different sort.
The words “rural” and “small” may conjure an image of unsophistication, but,
in fact, small and rural libraries are out-
Check It Out
;WITH MICHAEL KELLEY
Big libraries get all the attention. But in late September
of 2013, the Institute of Museum and Library Services
(IMLS) issued an interesting report on small and rural
libraries in the United States. While the report got a
few media mentions (notably from Gary Price at
InfoDocket), it went largely unnoticed, even though it is
packed with gems about the small libraries that make
up America’s public library system. A few things in the
report jumped out at me.
First, it is not an exaggeration to describe
small and rural libraries as the backbone
of the American public library system.
The country has 8,956 public libraries
(administrative entities) and 80.5% can
be described as either rural or small.
Most ( 77.1%) can be categorized as
small, with a service population of less
than 25,000, and 46.8% were classified
Rural libraries target a population of
about 37 million, about 12% percent of
the library service population in the U.S.,
while small libraries target 46 million,
or 15.4%. The categories overlap. Larger
urban libraries target a population of 104
million. But in some states, the only
libraries residents know are small or rural
ones. In Vermont, Maine, and New
Hampshire, for example, just under 99%
of the libraries are classi;ed as small. In
Alaska and North Dakota, more than
pacing their urban counterparts when it
comes to digital resources, such as the
level of publicly accessible computer ter-
minals or e-books.
Sure, the big library systems have been
making headlines with e-book pilots in
recent years, but according to the IMLS,
in 2011, small libraries offered 60.2% of
all e-book holdings across the country—
and they increased their e-book holdings
194% over the three-year period ending
In the same period, the number of
publicly accessible computer terminals
increased 20.2% in rural libraries, and
usage was up 6.7%. In city libraries, the
use of terminals decreased 9.5%.
Meanwhile, the librarians who staff
these public institutions are truly dedicated. The median staffing at a rural
library is 1. 5 full-time equivalents. At a
small library, it is 2. 5. There is little
wiggle room for any reduction in human
resources, even as these librarians struggle to provide a full gamut of professional services with a very small, often
shrinking, amount of money.
Is the M.L.S.
Amid all the numbers and statistics in
the report, the one that really stood out
to me concerns these librarians. In small
libraries, some 60% of librarians lack a
Masters in Library Science (M.L.S.)
degree, and in rural libraries, two-thirds
lack the credential.
Overall (including libraries large and
small), roughly a third of public librarians do not have an American Library