A couple years ago, while preparing for an ILS migration, a well-meaning tech support specialist told me that we needed to schedule a conference call to bring his team and my team together. “We’ll need your head of cataloging, your head of serials, your systems librarian, your circulation supervisor, your archivist…” he rattled off. I pointed out this would be easy to schedule. As director of a two-person library, all of those areas were my responsibility. On the day of our call, while his team crowded around a speaker phone in a conference room five hours away, I stretched my phone cord as far from the circulation desk as I could and sat with a notebook balanced on my lap, conversing from the floor of a supply closet, the only private space in our former library.
To ARSL members and conference attendees, this little story is probably unremarkable. This is what we do, in some way or another, every single day. We take on the responsibilities of six people at once without flinching, and we refuse to let rural circumstances prevent us from providing the best library services we possibly can. In this way, attending the ARSL Conference was refreshing. Conversing with other librarians who struggle with similar day-to-day obstacles as I do all while deeply loving their rural communities was a very positive experience. In Gretel Ehrlich’s The Solace of Open Spaces, an essay collection about loss and resilience in the rural West, she writes, “Living well here has always been the art of making do in emotional as well as material ways . . . The toughness I was learning was not a martyred doggedness, a dumb heroism, but the art of accommodation. I thought: to be tough is to be fragile; to be tender is to be truly fierce.” I thought of this excerpt often at ARSL and as a rural librarian, I am at once proud and humbled to be able to call everyone I met colleagues.
During the conference, I especially enjoyed attending sessions that centered around how libraries help cultivate digital inclusion in rural communities. As highlighted in the FCC’s 2016 progress report (this is the sort of thing that buries my desk), only 4% of Americans living in urban communities lack access to high-speed broadband at 25/3 Mbps, but this figure increases to 39% when looking at people who live in rural communities. In rural tribal communities, like the community my library serves, the FCC estimates 68% of people lack access to broadband at these same speeds. Surveys my library administered at the beginning of the 2016 semester indicated only two-thirds of new Leech Lake Tribal College students have Internet access at home, and just over half have computers. Beyond books, libraries are critical partners in building digitally equitable communities, and as I work to coordinate these services at my library, the resources and conversations I had at the ARSL Conference have been invaluable.
My library, partnering with the Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe Education Division, recently received a grant to provide digital literacy training and conduct digital inclusion assessment among tribal employees, tribal college students, and community members. With this project simmering in the back of my mind, two tech-related sessions in particular were incredibly helpful: “Top Tips for Patron Technology Training,” in addition to having a delightfully alliterative title, provided a very well organized, easy-to-take-home set of suggestions for helping patrons use technology, whether one-on-one or in a more formal class setting. The presenters, Crystal Schimpf and Cindy Fisher, included a second layer of guidance in their session, demonstrating effective teaching techniques throughout the session. I especially valued the discussion about admitting when you don’t know the answer to a patron’s technology question. Learning is an ongoing process for both patron and library staff.
Complementing the content of “Top Tips” perfectly, “Being a 21st-Century Librarian” presented by Nikki Cunningham provided a comprehensive overview and demonstration of free (free!) online resources to share with patrons who are learning about technology. As I work to coordinate our upcoming technology courses, I’ve been using TechBoomers—a resource discussed during this session—to brainstorm some classes that focus on specific websites and tools. Once patrons are comfortable using computers for basic tasks, helping them learn the social aspects of technology is very important in rural communities. For those of us living in isolated areas where winter lasts almost forever, a computer with an Internet connection can provide a critical link to the rest of the world. I appreciate Nikki’s clear demonstration of the resources she covered and enjoyed learning about tech resources from another rural librarian.
My library is a joint-use academic/community library that will help anyone who walks through the doors, but because it is located on tribal lands, it is ineligible to receive the city, county, and state funds that sustain most public libraries. We grant-write to fund our existence, and when we want to do more than just exist, we write even more. I extend my most sincere gratitude to the ARSL Conference Scholarship Committee for this opportunity to do more than just exist professionally. While the 2017 conference is likely too close to the start of Leech Lake Tribal College’s semester for me to attend, I look forward to participating in ARSL virtually and hope to travel again in 2018.
Submitted by Hannah Buckland (Cass Lake, MN.), Founders Scholarship recipient