Will the Real Rural Library Please Stand Up?

By Louise Greene, ARSL Board Member and Secretary

Recently I was in a discussion with fellow students in the PEARL Project about the definition of ‘rural’. One of them told me the library director in a city of 190,000 residents considered them ‘rural’. That’s strange. Or is it?

You see, I was arguing for a definition of rural that included state of mind rather than one used by the Census Bureau or the Department of Agriculture that is exclusively about population size.  IMLS (Institute of Museum and Library Services) also defines rural according to population size but adds distance to the definition. Last year at the ARSL annual conference in Raleigh, N.C., Susan Hildreth, Director of the IMLS, gave a presentation showing that rural libraries (47% of all public libraries) were broken down into three separate categories: fringe rural, distant rural, and remote rural.

My fellow student raised a very good question: what about attitude, or the perspective from within the library or the community? Two small communities of the same size and equally distant from a metro area may have totally different attitudes. One can be a corporate bedroom community with many amenities; the other may have no corporate character or amenities. Yet both may have libraries. Does anyone want to hazard a guess as to which of these community libraries consider themselves ‘the real rural library’?

Now how about that library in the city of 200,000?  Being 2-4 hours away on the interstate from any place even close to the same size can sure feel remote…..

What do you think? Post your comments below!

3 Responses to “Will the Real Rural Library Please Stand Up?”

  1. RoseAleta says:

    Great job! Louise!

  2. Jacqulyn says:

    Conundrum…..” the chicken or the egg”….Defining rural will always be a debate. I think it is important to understand libraries need support at all levels. We should not exclude a library if they view themselves as rural and they do not meet our personal definition. All libraries add to the CONVERSATION and that is IMPORTANT. Rural, small libraries need the forum that ARSL provides. Keep up the good work.

  3. Linda says:

    I think there’s a distinct difference between being “geographically” rural and a rural service library. Our library, for example, is considered rural under all the applicable surveys and we cater to a small town composed of mostly farm workers or “ma and pa” family owned businesses. About 20 miles away (still geographically “rural”) another library exists that was absorbed into a much larger, well financed state library system. This library tends to serve a completely different population than ours, despite sharing the same geographic designation. I believe that taking into consideration the type of population serviced is vital to the assessment of rural vs. urban. Unlike mindset which isn’t necessarily quantifiable, service certainly is. Where our library may offer classes in food preservation, basic computing skills, and hunting certifications the other example library offers classes in yoga, current fashion showcases and iPad app development…two distinct libraries in the same geographic “rural” designation but catering to completely different service needs. It all boils down to knowing your patrons and they need/want and providing that to them. Rural service as opposed to geographically rural is a much more specific designation, yes, but one that helps librarians isolate the type of patron services and needs for their particular library.