A Guide To Successful Open Source Projects in Public Libraries

By John J. Brice Executive Director Meadville Public Library, Chief Executive Officer Crawford County Federated Library System

With budgets tightening everywhere in library world, one way public libraries are looking at saving money is Open Source software, because it is free.  Or is it?  And how can something that is free be any good?  If Open Source software is free and it is good what type of capabilities does my organization need to implement it?

The answer to those questions will be addressed by using my library, the Meadville Public Library which is the System Headquarters for the Crawford County Federate Library System, as an example or even a model for how open source projects can be successfully implemented.

The Crawford County Federated Library System has been using OSS (Open Source Software) in its IT operations since around 1999, beginning with some basic floppy-based routers used to share a dialup Internet connection among each library’s computers.  (Please see for a full listing of all of our OSS projects.) Following the success of that project we recognized the potential of OSS, integrating it increasingly into our infrastructure.

From that first project onward we decided that whenever possible any future new IT solution we offered our member libraries would utilize Open Source software.  We made this decision for a number of reasons.  First was reliability.  We were frustrated with commercial products that were a closed book to us, relying on reboots, fresh installs, and/or phone-based tech support to attempt to resolve problems, often unsuccessfully.  We found the hands-on approach to resolving issues with OSS to be a refreshing alternative; generally with a bit of web searching or queries on appropriate mailing lists or IRC channels we could find solutions to most of the problems we encountered.  Secondly, developing our own solutions with Open Source software allowed us to gain control of hardware purchases.  Numerous times we had to allocate precious dollars to replace perfectly fine computers because they no longer met the specifications of the latest commercial software.  By choosing to use OSS software on desktops and servers we were able to extend the life of much of our hardware.  The third issue was customization; we could customize Open Source software to meet our needs, from locking down public desktops to creating custom websites and services for our libraries.  Finally, the last reason was the cost.  In addition to saving money by being able to extend the life of our hardware through the use of OSS, we were able to save considerable funds with OSS since it is largely free, unlike most commercial software, and doesn’t require the payment of per-user or per-seat license fees.

Of course, no solution is completely free; with OSS you might save funds on software and license fees, but there are costs associated with hiring staff capable of installing & managing it.  However, we have found from our first OSS project onward that the costs of such employees can be considerably less than many organizations pay for commercial software solutions.  Furthermore, our IT staff was able to apply the skills and knowledge gained implementing OSS solutions in our libraries to a wide variety of projects, since OSS projects are often built using many of the same tools.

Over the ten plus years we have used open source solutions we have been extremely happy with the results.  We have a state of the art IT infrastructure costing us about 33% less than if relied on commercial providers.  We control our own destiny (with the exception of e-books) in our IT strategy.  We have a dedicated staff that is expert in assembling open source packages and writing software so that a production capable solution is possible. And as a manager I spend a lot less time on IT issues then if I had to rely on commercial vendors.

Another advantage the Open Source over a closed source commercial product is that it allows the library to customize the service for both the patrons and staff while at the same time streamlining services.  Customization and integration of Open Source programs is possible because the source code is available, while in a closed source model it is not possible to access the source code.  An example of this is the Print Fee Automation project we are currently working on.  Like many libraries we have an ILS, an Internet management program and we are planning to install a print copier fee automation program called Pykota.  If we were to follow a typical closed source development model you would have three separate programs with patrons needing three separate access points (library card, web login, print fee card) and the staff would have to know how to use three separate programs. Using the Open Source model we can connect all three of the programs into one integrated system with the ILS patron database providing the authentication and print fee management so that patrons only need one access point (library card).   On the staff side all of the print fees and fines are managed in the same program (the ILS) again eliminating complexity and training.

Is Open Source software a solution for other libraries?  I frankly, have talked with many libraries that have seen open source projects fail.  I believe that open source will work if a library is willing to make the following commitments:

  1. Top management supports the project 100% and this means that when things go wrong (and chances are something will go wrong) that they stay committed to the project until it is fixed.
  2. Do not do an ILS as your first open source project.
  3. That someone on staff has training in Open Source Operating Systems and knows how to download and compile programs.
  4. That the library has access to a developer, on a contract basis, so if something needs to be customized it can be.
  5. That a staff member is in charge of training staff and monitoring the system.
  6. That a program, such as Bugzilla, is used so that anyone can report problems and bugs to the project.

I believe that if any library followed the above listed precepts that all Open Source projects will be successful.  Of course this means that before a library considers its first Open Source Project there will be the need to invest in staff training, the hiring of a contract developer, the installation of a bug tracking program and some staff training.  However, considering the savings that occur in the subsequent years when no funds have to be paid for licensing using Open Source Solutions can  be a very wise investment.

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!

ARSL Market Research Report

In March, the ARSL Board met in Chicago to begin work on planning for our future. There were a number of pieces put into place before this meeting including several surveys and focus groups conducted by Lucas Consulting.  Several of you participated in these surveys and groups.  When all the data was collected, the teams of Lucas Consulting and Rainbow Research analyzed the data and created a report for our organization.

Since those meetings, the Board and Executive Committee of ARSL have been working to incorporate much of this data into our operations.  We are evaluating a number of processes we use to reach members, working to develop an updated strategic plan and revamping how our board does business.

Many of the changes we are incorporating and projects we are undertaking are due to the input, suggestions and contributions of our members and potential members.  We thank you for your honest, forthright and (as always) practical advice.  This is your organization and we want to take every opportunity to make it responsive to your needs and wants.

We were fortunate to have such an opportunity and want to thank the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation for making this project possible and for providing top quality professionals to facilitate this work. We are extremely grateful to them for making this opportunity to view our Association from a new perspective and to prepare for future growth.

We hope you will continue to let us know what is important to you.

Market Research Report – Executive Summary

Market Research Report – Full Report

Community Engagement: Small Libraries Go Big

By Linn Haugestad Edvardsen

Your library is a critical asset to your community. For starters, it plays a role in improving local literacy; it provides vital access to Internet and technology training; and it helps the economy by offering resources and services for job seekers and small businesses, and access to educational resources. The message seems simple enough and most of you are passionate about it, but the question is, does your community know or really understand the value?

Independence Public Library parade

Independence Public Library Parade (KS)

Making assumptions about how people view your library can be a critical misstep in maintaining and growing local support. The solution? Take control of local perceptions by making community engagement an integral part of everyday activities. Getting out into the community and making connections shouldn’t be something you do occasionally—it should be something that drives you!

Don’t let it overwhelm you, let it inspire you

Community engagement may seem overwhelming and complex, but it’s really very simple. Essentially, it just means making efforts to put the library in front of diverse audiences to start conversations and activate people in some meaningful way. This dialogue provides many natural opportunities to discuss how your library positively impacts the community—and because the audience is engaged and interested, they are more likely to listen and continue the conversation with friends, family and business colleagues.

You can improve outcomes by thinking of your community engagement strategy not as singular events (e.g., taking part in a local parade), but as a fundamental component of your marketing approach and overall strategic plan. So, the first—and most important step—is to plan. Start with a broad view and refine to build out the details of an individual approach or activity. Don’t let lack of funds, staff and other resources stop the planning—decide what’s actually feasible once you have a good outlook of the complete landscape.

Creating effective community engagement

Over the past four years as part of the Geek the Library community awareness campaign team, I’ve learned a great deal about effective community engagement. Geek the Library has helped hundreds of libraries across the country start important local conversations. Based on the experience of participating libraries, I’ve put together some tips to get you started.

Renegades Geek Night

Mary Lou of Wallkill Public Library, 2012 Renegades Geek Night

Tips to get started:  

Hone your message and find transformational stories! Your library transforms lives. As you engage with your community, you want to make sure that your message is clear, so no opportunity is wasted. Think about how you can translate this transformational message to your community. Show the who, what, where, when and why. Statistics are helpful and can guide the bigger conversation, but in order for the message to resonate, localize it. In other words, put a face on it—a local face. Work with your staff and volunteers to uncover the stories that show the incredible impact your library has on individuals and the community.

What’s a transformational story? That’s up to you, but it needs to document how the library made a difference in someone’s life. It’s changing the conversation about the library from information and resources to the library as a transformational force in the community. When evaluating these stories, remember that what you think is commonplace or insignificant (e.g., someone getting hired after using job resources or a small business using library resources to start and grow a local business) might provide a memorable message with the right context. Once you’ve worked out the who and the what, document along with the when, where and why.

Inform and activate staff and internal stakeholders! This starts in the library by making sure all staff and other internal stakeholders (e.g., volunteers and your board) understand your key messages and are empowered (and have the right tools) to communicate them effectively. (Awaken their passion about the library—you want the message to have heart!) Be clear about your community engagement objectives and provide opportunities to give input. Share your plan (including the individual stories and the bigger value message) and how everyone needs to play a role.

Build from what you’re already doing! Look at where you already engage with the community and build on those activities—both in the library and out in the community. Gaining a complete view will provide some guidance for where you have holes (what audience are you missing?), where there’s too much attention and where simple changes can improve active engagement levels.

Take part in more events and make it an active experience! After you’ve completed your review of community events and researched additional opportunities, do it again. Make sure you aren’t just including the usual suspects—and ask your staff for their input. Once you establish a much longer list of possibilities, do a reality check. What can you actually accomplish with your current resources? Next, think about how to make each event an opportunity to start conversations. Having a presence somewhere isn’t enough. You want to get attention, and get people to make connections (or reconnect) with the library and start thinking about the library in terms of the transformational outcomes.

Jessamine County Public Library

Jessamine County Public Library (KY) Kick Off

Ramp up and expand local partnerships and collaborations! Making connections means taking inventory of how you work with organizations, businesses, schools and even the media. Where can the library provide value? Where can an individual or an organization provide value for the library, or where can something valuable be created with a partnership? Perhaps it’s teaming up with local schools to provide more robust homework help, or partnering with a local coffee shop owner to write an informative article and offering a class about the history of coffee and tips for home brewing. In any case, use every collaboration as an avenue to engage on many levels.

Mobilize community support! Think about key community leaders who might be able to help you as you get out in the community. These leaders are people who are outspoken, who often talk about local issues and already have a local following (e.g., a popular business owner or a well-known educator). You want to provide opportunities for them to hear your stories (perhaps an event?) and to ask their advice about new ways the library can collaborate in the community. These are the people you want leading conversations about the library, so make sure they are engaged and can confidently tell a robust story.

Capital Area District Library

Capital Area District Library Billboard (MI)

Make it happen

Any library can have an active and impactful community engagement plan—regardless of size and resources. It’s often more about a shift in thinking internally that leads to the small changes with what you’re already doing that make a difference. Also, developing expectations for staff and empowering them to proactively engage with the community regularly is key—they need to understand why it’s important and how it integrates with their job description.

Remember, community engagement doesn’t always provide instant results—it’s a process and something that’s ongoing. The engagement you strive for isn’t just what happens while at an event or directly after a presentation at a local organization, it’s what is put into motion later through conversations and actions.

Be consistent. Be passionate. Be patient. And always geek community engagement!

Author info: Linn Haugestad Edvardsen is program manager for the Geek the Library community awareness campaign. She can be reached at Geek the Library is free for U.S. public libraries. For more information, please visit

Where to get good stuff at good prices

The following advice on purchasing materials for libraries comes from public librarians around the country who answered a request by Chris Rippel on ARSL listserv for advice and tips. Thanks to Chris for compiling!

General advice

  • Buy top 25 NYT Bestseller list in hardback, large print, and audio.
  • When local ethnic stores sell videos in their language store owners know a lot about selecting and buying videos in their language. Talk to them.
  • When we get donations of more historic or scholarly value than is appropriate for our library or Friend’s Book Sale, we show them to a local used book store owner. In exchange for the books he selects the library gets credit for buying used books, almost exclusively series fiction, from his store. In addition, some people moving out of town donate their bookstore credit to the library.
  • I’ve worked with bookstores directly when I see several items we’re interested in on Amazon or Abebooks. We updated our states series, all 52 (including D.C. and Puerto Rico), from 1980s titles to 2004-2010 titles at a cost of $8 a book.  These were all like new library editions from one series.


  • Midwest Tape
  • Buy New York Times Bestseller list in audio
  • Baker and Taylor
  • Amazon is the cheapest. I am very happy to see Recorded Books and Brillance Audio selling consumer editions to libraries. We now purchase the majority of our titles through as they arrive in library albums with covers already reproduced and inserted into the sleeves. For those donations and other purchases where we need the albums and sleeves, we purchase them from Sunrise. Extra strong albums start at $2.79 each! I started with Sunrise before they ever did a library trade show to cut costs and it’s been a great arrangement for libraries and for them.


Search engines of online book stores in many countries and eBay



  • Midwest Tape
  • Walmart
  • Amazon for television series
  • Target and Walmart when on sale.
  • has amazing sales
  • for best prices
  • DVDs are usually best of Amazon. We have started getting previously viewed ones and overstock through DVA.

Graphic novels

Resources: Getting Grants for Your Library

By Diana Weaver, member of ARSL Member Services Committee and Director, Basehor Community Library, Kansas

The old saying “you have to enter to win” also applies to getting grants for your library. Sharpen your grant-writing pencil and get ready to enter your library in these grant opportunities, listed on WebJunction’s resource list  for Budgets & Funding. The list is organized into government grant sources, private grant sources, professional associations, and has a link to look for local sources. The list includes Stephanie Gerding and Pam MacKellar’s Library Grants Blog which is a wonderful source for finding available grants, both large and small. Stephanie’s latest post is about the new United for Libraries Citizens-Save-Libraries Grants funded by the Neal-Schuman Foundation. If your library is struggling with funding, definitely look into this one. For technology projects, check out Technology Grant News.

If you’re looking for some help with fundraising, there is good information on the Free Management Library site. Look for the section on fundraising for nonprofits. FundingFactory offers a way to raise funds through recycling computer cartridges and used small electronics.

When writing a grant, it’s always important to tell your library’s story. WebJunction’s resource list includes a link to the Library Use Value Calculator to help you show how much value your library adds to your community.

List of Library Webinar Opportunities

Webinars are a great way to continue your learning without additional costs or travel! Here is a list of opportunities open to all. If you have other suggestions, please post in the comments area below.

See also the comprehensive monthly list of upcoming live webinars compiled by Jamie Markus, Wyoming State Library.

WebJunction webinars

TechSoup for Libraries



SirsiDynix Insitute

ALA Events

NCompass Live
NCompass Live is the Nebraska Library Commission’s weekly online event.

Library Journal

School Library Journal


Foundation Center, free webinars for non-profits

Association for Library Collections & Technical Services

Iowa Small Libraries Online Conference
Session archives from conference: “Lemons to Lemonade: Surviving to Thriving in Tough Times” January 21, 2010

EDUCAUSE is a nonprofit association whose mission is to advance higher education by promoting the intelligent use of information technology. See Archives. Please note that only ELI members can access archived Web seminars for 6 months from the original event date, after which time they become publicly available.

Texas State Library & Archives Commission
Free continuing education webinars for librarians

Big Talk From Small Libraries Conference
Upcoming and Archives

Webinar: Best Small Library in America 2012

Library Journal‘s annual Best Small Library in America Award, cosponsored by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, was created in 2005 to encourage and showcase the exemplary work of libraries serving populations under 25,000.  The Association for Rural and Small Libraries, in collaboration with WebJunction and Library Journal, is pleased to host this webinar featuring the 2012 Best Small Library in America: Independence Public Library. The multi-award-winning library’s staff of eight serves a population of 13,420 through innovative programs and partnerships, leveraging social media and the Geek the Library campaign for sustained marketing and advocacy efforts. Using a participatory management style and collaborating with other Kansas libraries, along with others in their community, IPL has reached out to individuals and partners to deliver programs and services that bring the community into the library. The session will include an overview of the nomination process and details for next year’s award (note: increased award amounts!).

Presented by: Julie Hildebrand, IPL director; Lily Morgan, director, Learning Resource Center at Independence Community College; and Francine Fialkoff, editor-in-chief, Library Journal.

View Webinar Archive

The Rural Library Clearinghouse

Thanks to California’s Rural Library Initiative for sharing the wealth of resources in the Rural Library Clearinghouse. This online resource is free to anyone, regardless of where you’re from. Register to access the clearinghouse and to receive an occasional online newsletter.

Register now:

The mission of the Rural Initiative Resources Clearinghouse is to create and maintain an online archive of resources to support California’s rural public library directors and staff in serving their public mission more efficiently. By seeking out and sharing examples of commonly needed documents, materials, and programs in all aspects of library operations and services, the Clearinghouse benefits rural libraries by eliminating the need to “reinvent the wheel” for every new policy, practice, procedure or project needed at the local level.

The Clearinghouse is a project of the California State Library’s Rural Initiative, an LSTA-funded project to direct additional resources to geographically isolated libraries in the state. The Rural Library Initiative assists the State Library in addressing its own mission, which is: “For all people of the state, free and convenient access to all library resources and services that might enrich their lives, regardless of where they live or of the tax base of their local government.” (CA Ed. Code Sec 19701)

The Rural Initiative and the Rural Library Resources Clearinghouse are supported by the U.S. Institute of Museum of Library Services under the provisions of the Library Services and Technology Act, administered in California by the State Librarian. Collection of materials and resources for some sections of the Clearinghouse is provided pro bono by California public librarians.

ARSL Webinar Archives

Grant Writing Tips for Beginners

By ARSL board member, Lorie Womack, Branch Manager, Washington Branch Library, Washington, Utah

Writing that first grant can be a scary and overwhelming experience for novice grant writers. This article provides some practical advice on how to make that first grant writing opportunity a little less daunting task. Further, it will get you excited about the rewards that can come from writing grants.

The first time grant writer should always keep in mind that grant writing is a process that takes time and effort. Writing a grant is more than just filling out an application and submitting it to the granting organization. Grant writing is a skill that is learned over time and with lots practice.

As Herbert Landau shares in his book that, “writing a competitive grant is a gamble, with no guarantee of a payoff for the effort invested. In evaluating the odds of winning a grant, apply my rule number 3 of successful grantsmanship: Do not pursue a grant if the odds against winning are more than 10 to 1.” Don’t let the fact that grant writing is a competitive business and a time consuming process discourage you from giving grant writing a try. There is nothing like seeing your hard fought for project become a reality.

The first step in the grant writing process is to do some research. The first part of this process is to find a grant opportunity that matches your proposed grant project. Shelley R. O’Brien writes, “there are many resources on the Internet, but it’s simplest to start with a Google search of opportunities in your community. Most foundations and corporations have websites that detail their application process. If you are in need of additional information, check out the Foundation Center’s website at The Foundation Center also provides excellent free webinars and classes on grant writing.” Don’t be afraid to research the organization and the particular grant you are applying for. You may find some ways to tailor your grant proposal and application toward the mission of the grant and the granting organization. Paying close attention to the requirements of the grant application may make the difference between your project getting funded and not getting funded. It is not a good idea to exceed the grant requirements as this may result in your application not being funded. Most grants are funded based on specific criteria. As you prepare your grant application carefully consider how your project and proposal will rate against the grant rating criteria.

With your granting organization and grant identified you are ready to look at the specific requirements of the grant. Take the time to learn about the mission statement of the granting organization. It is always a good idea to make sure your organization and project meet the eligibility requirements of any grant you apply for. Many grantees only award money for projects that meet specified criteria. As you prepare your grant application carefully consider how your project and proposal will rate against the grant funding and rating criteria.

One common mistake that first time grant writers make is to fill out the grant application first. The best place to begin is the grant proposal. Author Emily Beth Devine explains, “the format and length of a grant proposal are dictated by the funding agency. Proposals submitted to private foundations are short (usually a few pages) and focus on describing the problem and proposed solution. Proposals submitted to federal agencies can include up to 25 pages of text for the research plan,29 plus supporting documents.”

I begin writing a grant proposal by asking the following questions:

  • Who is the target audience?
  • What will need to be done?
  • When will project tasks need to be completed?
  • How does this project help me meet my organization mission and goals?
  • Why is this project important to the success of my organization?
  • Where can I find partners to assist me with this project?

With these questions answered you are ready to begin putting your proposal on paper. As you write your proposal keep the grant requirements in mind and clearly state the ways your proposed project meets that criteria. An important part of successful grant proposal writing is clearly outlining how your proposed project will benefit the target audience of the project.

Another key piece of advice I would give any first time grant writer is to write your proposal with the target reader in mind. Remember that not everyone understands your grant project the way you do or has the experience and expertise you bring to the project. It is always a good idea to anticipate questions that a grant reviewer may have. Clarify things such as who will complete what parts of the project, where additional money for the project may be coming from, and what donation or in-kind contributions may be coming to the project.

Grant writing is truly a skill that is learned over time and is acquired with experience. Don’t be discouraged if you don’t get the funding the first time. Simply, regroup and evaluate what you have learned for the next grant opportunity that comes along. If you believe in a project don’t take no for an answer keep trying until you get a “yes.” The rewards for writing grants are well worth the time and energy you put into the project.

Emily Beth Devine, “The art of obtaining grants,” Journal of Health-System Pharmacy, March 15, 2009.
Herbert Landau, Winning Grants: A Game Plan, (Chicago: ALA Editions, 2010). (See also article in American Libraries).
Shelley O’Brien; “Grant Writing Tips for the Non-Grant Writer,” Parks and Recreation; November 2011.

See Also: Library Grants Blog

Please add resources in the comment section!

If you have additional resources to share, please send them to bfhenboy (at)

What is Rural?

Defining “rural” is an ongoing conversation and definitions vary across communities depending on funders, geography, and the perceptions of community members. Here are a number of resources and articles that explore “what is rural?” Please post additions to the comments area below.

United States Department of Agriculture

Rural Assistance Center

Defining “Rural” for Rural Library Research, by Thomas Ivie, The Idaho Librarian, 2009

Defining Rural: Too Many Definitions Cause Problems, by Jerry Hagstrom, DTN, 2011

You know you are a rural librarian if….

A list compiled with contributions from PUBLIB, the ARSL Listserv and others. Perhaps some of you out there have others to add? Add yours as a comment below and we’ll add it! The first on the list are John Clark’s “Ten ways to tell if you are a solo librarian” and other early contributors are noted in this PDF.

    1. People in the checkout line hand you a reserve request written on the back of their grocery list.
    2. People tell the town manager you work too much because they saw your car at the library after 9 P.M.
    3. You stop at yard sales to buy movies for the library.
    4. You have a network of fellow scavengers who save Coke, Pepsi and Powerade caps so you can redeem the points for more stuff for the library.
    5. Your fingerprints are on every item in the library.
    6. You debate weeding a title you just know cousin Emma will hate you for, but do it anyway.
    7. You’re on the delivery service, but drop off an ILL pouch in the next town after hours because you’re going there anyway to do some grocery shopping.
    8. You visit other libraries and the first place you go is their used book shelf.
    9. There is a bigger library that has adopted you, and you have done the same for a smaller library.
    10. You have done story hour while simultaneously checking out books and answering a reference question over the phone.
    11. people bring by new babies AND pets to show the staff.
    12. your bookmobile has had to wait for a flock of sheep to clear the road.
    13. your bookmobile has mowed down a flock of guineas (They saw the sheep in time, but the guineas never had a chance).
    14. staff members know the grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins of the kid checking out books.
    15. you know and call the owner when a dog wanders into the library.
    16. staff members can walk to any store downtown during their break.
    17. patrons bring you vegetables from their gardens.
    18. the books on raising goats, sheep and chickens circulated more than the books on fine arts and travel.
    19. your patrons know what the Firefox books are.
    20. you not only continue to circ VHS, you buy them at used books sales & yard sales because your patrons still want them.
    21. people tie up their horse-wagons and buggies to the bike stand in front of your library (It’s an Amish thing).
    22. your patrons like you to place holds on titles for them – even before they know they want that book. (Proactive reader’s advisory).
    23. you are the town’s copier service, fax service, UPS pickup spot, meeting room, community, service outlet, internet cafe, and perhaps even the coffee shop (vending machine anyone?)
    24. you can see trees, open spaces and livestock from your library’s front door (mooooo).
    25. you are The Community Center for your village or town.
    26. you invite all the patrons in for hot soup and coffee when the power is off in neighborhoods during the winter.
    27. people stop you in the grocery store (or dry cleaners, or restaurant, or…) to return books ormake requests for books.
    28. you have to drive at least 10 miles to buy a gallon of milk.
    29. the children from summer reading bring their report cards in to show you and invite you to their graduations.
    30. you know every kid on the high school football team by the kind of books they read when they were in summer reading.
    31. you and all your staff cry when someone tells you of the passing of a long-time patron.
    32. you have ever installed a water-heater or fixed a major appliance yourself, or with the help of a spouse, because you could not afford to call a repairman or the nearest one is more than an hour away.
    33. patrons call and ask you to renew books and you don’t have to ask their names because you recognize their voices.
    34. the directions given to outreach staff involve turning next to the big barn with the red chickens in the yard.
    35. you’ve ever had a patron drop off house plants for you to keep while they had an extended hospital stay.
    36. your elevation is greater than your population.
    37. when you get a phone call asking for the Reference desk, Acquisitions department, Overdues, Children’s Services, ILL, etc., you say “I can help you with that.”
    38. you get stopped in the grocery store by people who tell you they have overdue books or fines, and want to take care of it right there next to the lettuce.
    39. when people are looking for bars, they’re not talking about their cell-phone!
    40. you troubleshoot for everyone in the community’s computer problems, not just your own.
    41. you loan your personal books out to supplement the library collection.
    42. you repurpose computers until they are useless to the library, and then you repurpose them to another non-profit or family in need. …same with books. …and occasionally other fixtures.
    43. you back up your school librarian, whose job is constantly in question, and is wearing far too many hats these days.
    44. your Friends group is remodeling the library bathrooms…themselves, and the Board members help move shelving, wash windows, plant annuals, and paint walls.
    45. you have volunteer maintenance folks.
    46. people bring you lunch and dinner because they know on busy days you don’t eat because meals are not on the schedule.
    47. patrons subscribe to a periodical to ensure the library has it.
    48. when school gets out, your patronage (and bathroom use) double (or triple) and you know everyone coming in (mostly).
    49. you open early and stay open late when it is too hot for living outside and most people don’t have air conditioning.
    50. lost books are only found after the patron has paid for it or replaced it.
    51. people call the library for the number to….anyone, anywhere in town.
    52. the deer outside outnumber the people inside. (Or geese, or ducks…and they should know better to chase the Swans out on the ICE!…or you see a fox run down the street after close and make a left at the corner of the library to go hunting.)
    53. one of your patrons calls and asks you to bring the library ladder (a wooden one over 50 years old) and come to her house to put a baby robin back that fell out of its nest.
    54. you are shopping for groceries and people stop to request a book purchase or to renew their books when you get back to work. Oral requests, not written.
    55. you are digging weeds out around the parking lot when the library isn’t open yet and passing library patrons stop to help.
    56. my husband hits all the yard sales and thrift stores to look for movies for the library.
    57. your patrons call your house at 9:30 at night and they forgot to pick up an audio book for the trip they are leaving on the next day and can you please meet them.
    58. every child in town knows you as the library lady and soon the parents all call you that too.
    59. patrons leave books in your mailbox at home.
    60. people drop off and pick up clothes alterations, plants, flowers and other items for other people to pick up.
    61. you can stand at the library front door and point at the buildings of the post office, bank, courthouse, doctor’s office and diners.
    62. you talk to patrons about their family for 10 minutes before you renew their materials over the phone.
    63. animal husbandry is the largest non-fiction section in your library.
    64. you are not only the town librarian but the town mayor (I met a woman who was librarian and mayor).
    65. folks drive their lawn mowers to the library (or tractors).
    66. you can walk to the post office to pick up an interlibrary loan and leave the library unattended.
    67. there is no stop light in your county, which is roughly the size of Rhode Island.
    68. you get mail addressed to “Library – P.O. Box” the lady at the P.O. Knows.
    69. the highway snowplow stops by the library for audio books.
    70. your town has three bars but no bank. you can order free-range eggs at the circulation desk.
    71. the only way some kids get to summer reading is to drive a school bus to a neighboring town and pick them up (because you are the school bus driver too).
    72. the library has become the underground railroad for buying and selling of more mushrooms.
    73. extra produce from people’s gardens is left in bushel baskets inside the front door free for the taking.
    74. you can knock on a patron’s door and get the overdue books back yourself.
    75. your library closes for the annual town festival because all staff are marching in the parade and the library is the best viewing spot.
    76. your library is not within a major corporate donor’s area of service thereby disqualifying you for their grants.
    77. parents call to tell you “send John home, it’s supper time”….and then call back 15 minutes later because that’s how long it takes for him to walk home and John isn’t there yet.
    78. families see you out in public and ask you why your not at the library.
    79. patrons call you at home to ask if you have a particular item in the collection and if you do if you will save it for them for the next day.
    80. the parents of teens ask you to give their kids a ride home so they can stay for programming
    81. you are the one who cleans up the poop left by the pet a patron brought in to show off.
    82. you have a set of tools for repairs (or spouse willing to act as unpaid maintenance person – mine decided sleeping with me was not enough compensation).
    83.  you have taken a reserve request and/or reference question while in the bathroom of the local American Legion post.
    84. you are called a patron’s “personal reading advisor” (That is what my feed store owner calls me).
    85. UPS delivers to your home because the library is closed.
    86. you’re stopped at the Casey’s in a near-by town and asked if you have such and such book.
    87. you have a newborn baby goat in your office at the library because it was rejected by its mother, and you are bottle feeding it.
    88. you are late to work because you had to drop animals off at the sale barn.
    89. you need to leave early to take your kids and their livestock to the 4-H weigh in.
    90. you come to work with chicken poop somewhere on your person
    91. a patron had to pay for a damaged book because it fell in the sheep dip
    92. you stay open when the electricity is out because people will be in for books to read until the power is back on.
    93. it doesn’t surprise you when the reason for power outage is because a combine took out a telephone pole.
    94. the book is dirty “because I was reading it in the field while I was waiting on . . .” makes perfect sense to you.
    95. you suggest checking the trucks and tractors for that missing audiobook CD.
    96. your first reference question is from a 4-H member asking how long to leave a rooster with hens before what he wants to happen happens
    97. the regular library person forgot that it was her day to work, so an 8th grader who volunteers on Saturdays went looking for a key to open the library and run it.
    98. the state library consultant is asked to run the library for a few minutes because the librarian is the only one on duty and a patron called needing help canning beans.
    99. staff members know the grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins of the kid checking out books.
    100.  a dog wanders into the library and you call the owner.
    101. staff members can walk to any store downtown during their break.
    102. patrons bring you vegetables from their gardens.
    103. you are late to work because the railroad crossing was blocked by railroad cars moving forward and back again while switching to the grain elevator tracks (this can take 20 minutes or more!).
    104. patrons use your car as a bookdrop, within a 60 mile radius of the library.
    105. you are late for work and kids knock on your front door and ask you why you are not at the library.
    106. people run out to their cars and return books to you when you are grocery store.
    107. you come home to find book donations on your front porch.
    108.  patrons ask you to bring books they have on hold to meetings and baseball games.
    109.  patrons come to your house when the library is closed and ask to check out a book because they don’t have anything to read.
    110. you slow down on the way to the library for a parade of field mice running across a gravel road. There were about 15 to 20 of them.
    111. a patron comes in and says “I want to read that book by that author that I liked last year…” and you know just what book they are referring too.
    112. someone asks directions to a person’s house without having the address and the library employee tells them the correct way to get there.
    113. your patrons arrive by 4-wheeler, tractor or lawn mower.
    114. your patrons see you coming in your vehicle & hold their returns out their car window for you to grab as you pass by.
    115. your director wants to have a “living display” for National Dairy Month and bring in a cow to show the college kids. Then when she says “Because who’s milked a cow before?” and all 3 of the other staff members chuckle and raise their hands
    116. any time you go into town to shop or run errands, four or more people ask you to renew their books, or place something on hold for them. Or hand you a big stack of books to take back to the library for them!
    117. laptop users ask if they can access the Wi-fi from the front porch rocking chairs. (even a small log cabin library likes to keep up with the times)
    118. you call to tell a patron his/her book is in, but they might not answer because the phone is in the barn! (true story, honest)
    119. you have to request patrons not to spit tobacco in the trash cans.
    120. children at church ask you to unlock the library so they can get their favorite movie.
    121. people call you at home to see if you have a book on a certain subject that their child needs for a report.
    122. people give you money for a book memorial at church.
    123. the sack boy at the grocery store asks when his books are due.
    124. someone comes into your library and says “you know that book with the red cover by that author I like so well” and you know what books she is asking for.
    125. someone comes into your library and says “you know that book from yesterday and it was a very big over size book. And they don’t know the author of the book.
    126. when you go out to grab something to eat, you are asked to fix and diagnose a computer and printer problem there on the spot. I guess part of the enjoyment of being a really rural librarian
    127. on your way home, you have to deliver books to some of the patrons that couldn’t make it into the library, because they were working in the fields or the weather was not good and they could not walk to the library.. True
    128. you know the name of every person who comes in the library. Not just their name, but the whole family, as well and their dog and cat. And you know what church they attend. And they ask you to pick out their books for them because, “You know what I like.
    129. a customer gets angry because the book on CD won’t play in his DVD player! When a new librarian is introduced to patrons he or she is asked, “Now, Who are your people?”
    130. When FEMA requests that the bookmobile notify people at scheduled stops in low-lying areas they need to evacuate within 24 hours.
    131. When you have a waiting list of people who have asked to harvest the pecans from the trees in the library yard.
    132. When you are locally known as one of “the folks down to the librey.”
    133. There is a very loud explosion just outside the building and nobody flinches.
    134. You have patrons who have been shot, died of overdoses, given birth or conceived children, all in your library.
    135. You know all the cheap brands of fortified wine, malt liquor and where they are sold.
    136. You can tell by look or smell what a patron has been smoking.
    137. Your library has an “armed intruder” protocol.
    138. You don’t walk to your car alone, day or night.
    139. You have kids who virtually live in your library because it is one of the few safe places to go, and even safer than home.
    140. You realize that there are many degrees of homelessness.
    141. Every day quite a few people use your lavatory as a bathhouse.
    142. You have become quite used to interrupting men who are enjoying safe sex with themselves.
    143. You know better than to wake a sleeping patron.
    144. You know exactly how to dispose of dirty diapers, used prophylactics, suspicious packages and drug kits.
    145. The only dog you haven’t discovered in a backpack is an Irish Wolfhound.
    146. You have been cussed out in every major European and Asian language or dialect–at least that you can identify.
    147. There are at least three very poor and neglected children that you would steal away with if nobody could find out.
    148. You have given money to somebody because they needed to eat.
    149. You can give turn-by-turn directions to any spot within five miles, and you know where the buses stop, and have the train schedule memorized.
    150. Sometimes in a farming community so small and rural that the town no longer has a school and does not have a post office, bank, bar, grocery store, or gas station(most farmers have their own gas delivered and everyone else goes to the next biggest town miles away) but does have a library, a grain elevator, and, if you are lucky, a church.
    151. I once filled out a report on rural libraries that asked how far it was to was to the nearest city of 25,000 (limited to cities within the state). The answer for our library was 380 miles. Another library in our system was even further away, nearly 500 miles. Luckily for us, we were on the state border and only had a trip of 100 miles to get to a decent shopping mall in a neighboring state. Was this in one of the wide open Western states? Nope – Michigan.
    152. when a tree falls down during a storm and is blocking the road to the highway, you don’t need to worry about being late to work – in a few minutes someone with a chainsaw in their truck will come along and cut up the tree.
    153. when you see cows out in the road, you know whose they are, and offer to help get them back in. (after taking off my good shoes and putting on a ratty pair of shoes.)
    154.  you wouldn’t dream of planning any sort of library program during Hunting Season!!
    155. When I was young in Massachusetts the number of rings indicated who on the party line was getting a call. When my mother finished some of her conversations she’d say “Did everyone get that?” …and you’d hear click! click! as the other two families on the party line quickly hung up their phones.
    156. Here in our suburban libraries, bunnies gambol in the backyard, next to Route 287 and deer ramble through. Up the road wild turkeys keep people pinned in their cars at the 9/11 Memorial. Fortunately, the local black bears haven’t come to charge out Corduroy yet.
    157. a patron has to pay for books he accidentally shot while shooting at the possum he notices in his living room. He missed the possum, but nailed the stack of books!
    158. My parents were in town and fell by the library to take me to dinner after work, and a little girl came in to get a library card. We charged for outside-the-city cards, $2 for kids. The little dear had saved up $1.90, and her mom didn’t have any money on her, but I gave her the card anyway, and told her to bring in the extra dime next time she had one. She checked out a couple books and left happy After I locked up, my dad told me that not only had I told the mother that I trusted her and her child but that that mother would tell everybody she knew that I had. The little one came in a week or so later with the dime, too, so she was good for it.
    159. when you’re at the grocery store during the day on a weekday and the 5 year old in front of you in line whispers in her mom’s ear to ask if the library is closed.
    160. when the UPS man delivers your home computer to your husband at work, after stopping in to ask you where you’d like it delivered. (We sure missed Dave when he retired!)
    161. when you ask a patron applying for a library their phone number, they rattle off the last four digits (sadly we now have to dial the area code but natives or long timers still rattle off just the last four digits)
    162. you go to lunch and a patron hands you a book and asks if you can return it for her.
    163. you get complaints about staff when you’re at the roller rink in the next town with your son.
    164. the turkey at the front door is a REAL turkey, not a politician.
    165. every other patron asks about your mama – by name.
    166. you cannot open the library’s dumpster because a bear was jumping on it and smashed the top. you have chipmunks living the ceiling of the library eating the wiring. (both true stories from another library I worked in).
    167. We’re not rural, but one of our libraries in an outlying desert area of Phoenix often has wild animals, insects, and reptiles wander around and in the building. A friend who works there told me they had a customer who was chased by a wild boar. The customer was holding a bucket of KFC and refused to put it down, even though a giant wild animal with sharp teeth was chasing her down.
    168. patrons are personally affronted if you ask to see their library card at checkout.
    169.  a kid tries to pay his library fine with eggs and you refuse because you don’t have any eggs in the drawer to make change with.
    170.  your in-demand magazines are Field and Stream, Successful Farming, American Rifleman, and Farm Journal.
    171.  you have a list of legislators taped to your reference desk, but you can name all the U.S. Representatives for your state.
    172. you have to phone anybody in your state library association, you have a choice of two area codes.
    173.  your license plates have either a cowboy, a fish or a vegetable on them.
    174. there are two seasons: Hunting and Fishing.
    175.  the most-borrowed volume is the Ball Blue Book (a guide to canning).
    176.  there is one college football team for the entire state, and it may as well be for the entire planet.
    177. everybody knows you have not been walking very well, and one night, as you leave and head for your car, a PU going the other way stops and just sits there until you are in your car then goes on their way. And the Chief of police lets you park in a no parking spot while you are at work in the library.
    178. you are afraid to open the door because the skunk on the porch makes you nervous.
    179. Or, in the winter, “I can’t get out of my driveway” due to the snow.
    180. the two books enjoying the highest checkout in the library are The Chicken Health Book and How to do Your Own Divorce in Texas
    181. a perfectly valid reason for calling off work is “my road is flooded out again.”
    182. a patron asks to trade you either a dozen eggs or a freshly baked pie in lieu of paying a fine.
    183.  you refuse to issue a card to Billy Bob Jr. because the picture ID he brought in is his father’s, and you know this because you know where both he and his father live, and the address on the driver’s license is the father’s.
    184. the grandfather across the street is your security system (True!)
    185. you list the names of probable readers next to every book you order (in the order of their VIP standing or watch out!), and if there aren’t enough possible readers you won’t be ordering it. (Sadly, also true)
    186. you know every card-holder by name, and could take a stab at age and ancestry for two generations in either direction.
    187. when you walk to work (because you CAN), every car stops to ask if you need a ride and what happened to your car?
    188. your library has a watering trough. Though no longer being used.
    189. your library has a hitchin’ post.
    190. Or your husband’s packages!
    191. when delivery people bring packages to the library, not your home, irrespective of what the address says.
    192. the only time you lock your car is in the summer, and that’s so that people won’t leave bags of squash in it.
    193. a firefighter stops a young vandal from damaging your vehicle by saying “No, that car belongs to one of the librarians.”
    194. you carry bits of paper in your pocket when going to the grocery store, etc., because you know someone will request a book, or have a question.
    195. you check out and take books to an elderly client because she kinda, sorta threaten to tell your Dad if you didn’t.
    196. a boy’s book is overdue and his excuse is because his mother kept him at the hospital day after day while she was sitting with her brother who had had a log run through his stomach. (The man lived. EMS confirmed the story.)
    197.  a man walks in with a shoe box in his hands, asks for the Readers’ Advisor, takes the top off the box and says, “Can you help me identify this (very much alive) snake? I’ve never seen one like this around here.” (True story.)
    198. you’re late to work because you were stuck behind a tractor – or a combine.
    199. when you’re not home, the UPS man knows to drop off your package at the library.
    200.  you are happy to adjust employees’ schedules around their county fair competitions.
    201. your whole area’s Internet connection goes down because a farmer’s horse dies. (The farmer used a backhoe to dig a hole for burial and accidentally cut a cable in the process.)
    202. you’re new to the library and are given directions to the Smiths’ house that include, “Turn right at the corner where Mrs. Jones’s aunt used to live.” (You don’t know Mrs. Jones, let alone her aunt.)
    203. your genealogy materials are rarely used because everyone knows each other and their family history.
    204. you have to walk the long way around the library in the morning to avoid the skunk by the front door.
    205. you’re still considered a newcomer after you have been the library director for five years.
    206. there are no dentists or optometrists in your county that are on the insurance plan offered by your parent institution.
    207. patrons think you have a parking problem if they can’t find a parking space within 20 feet of the library.
    208. no local HVAC technician can repair your system because it is larger and more sophisticated than anything they have ever worked on.
    209. a child at Wal Mart says “Look Mama, it’s the Library lady!”


PEARL Project: Community Outreach by Texas Rural Libraries

These rural Texas communities know their libraries! Through the PEARL Project (Promoting & Enhancing the Advancement of Rural Libraries), the University of North Texas is working with 105 rural libraries in Texas to enhance the role of public libraries in their communities. With funding from the Robert and Ruby Priddy Charitable Trust, the three-year project is addressing the roles of the small rural library as:

  • A community resource.
  • A gathering place for people.
  • A facilitator for community partnerships.

The project’s team includes Louise Greene, ARSL board member and secretary, who is one of the Certificate of Advanced Study (CAS) students who serves as a mentor to the project’s rural librarians. Dr. Robert S. Martin is also a part of the project team and he will be presenting on the PEARL Project at the Small but Powerful Forum for Winning Big Support for your Rural Library at ALA Midwinter.

A core component of the project are the Community Outreach Plans. Each plan has a detailed step-by-step action grid that describes how to complete a program with community partners. Programs among the more than two dozen plans now available in .pdf format include: game day, summer reading for teens, homebound delivery, reaching low income patrons, developing a local history collection, offering ESL classes and more. Each plan was written by a librarian in a rural community in conjunction with PEARL grant students and is designed to heighten the visibility of the library within the community and improve library servies. The plans are proven workable models. New plans are added continually as they are written.

Find out more about the project and browse the Community Outreach Plans, and if you’ll be in Dallas for Midwinter, please come to the Small but Powerful Forum. And if you won’t be there, urge your regional or state representatives to join on your behalf!

And special thanks to the PEARL Project and staff for their support as ARSL Annual Conference Sponsors in 2011!