By Jennifer Milligan
Share. Learn. Grow. Change. Rinse. Repeat. After all, isn’t that what libraries are all about? A place to share and learn and grow and change, a place to be inspired, a place to be yourself, a place to figure out who you are?
A little over two years ago, I left a successful career in engineering to become a public library director after having completed my MLIS while continuing to work and raise a family. I did so because I believe in the power of public libraries to educate, inform, and inspire those within our communities, because I believe in the power of continuing education and growth to improve our lives. To be effective in my role as a director of a small rural public library, I need to learn and grow and change, I need to be inspired, and I need to share that inspiration with those around me, creating stronger and more effective public libraries for all of us. The ARSL conference offered me that opportunity; the opportunity to learn and grow, to make connections, and to better serve my community.
Whether it was getting ideas for fundraising, learning about free tech tools, discussing ways to incorporate makerspaces into small libraries, exploring options for family literacy programming, or sharing the importance of library advocacy, I found every session I attended to be full of passionate professionals, eager to share and learn. My enthusiasm only grew as I realized that these are ideas that will work for me, a director of a small rural library with limited financial and personnel resources. How exciting it is to share big ideas and lofty goals in ways that will work for the smallest of libraries, presented by people just like me, people who understand my challenges! The opportunity to network with similar professionals was priceless, providing me with contacts and friendships that will continue to help me learn and grow and serve my community.
Libraries are a place of change. We need to be inspired and innovative to meet the challenges of the changes in our communities, to continue to meet the changing needs of our patrons, to ensure that we are continuing to educate, inform, and inspire. I believe that attendance at the Association for Rural & Rural Libraries Annual Conference provided my entire library system with new information and ideas that will reinvigorate us as we move forward to meet our next challenge.
By Michele Lawrence
When I first learned about ARSL from The University of Alabama’s listserv, I thought, “This is exactly what I’m looking for.” Small and rural libraries have unique issues that other library associations would be at a loss to address. I read about the 2012 conference and knew I had to go as soon as I possibly could. The breakout sessions sounded like a wealth of information for my future in small libraries. I was beyond excited when I found out I was awarded the Dr. Bernard Vavrek scholarship for the 2013 conference in Omaha, NE.
This conference was amazing from the first keynote speaker, Lee Rainie, to the last. The speakers and presenters were full of energy and excitement for libraries and willing to share all their experience and knowledge to help others. Craig Johnson, author of the Longmire novels, is a dynamic and fun speaker. Anyone who has a chance to see him definitely should. How can I choose the highlights? The unofficial theme of the conference was to generate mutual support by getting your library involved in the community. It seems like a simple and obvious plan, but seems to be frequently overlooked.
Rachel Miller and Louise Greene offered great tips to involve your library with community events in Think Outside the Barn. The Power of One presenters shared great ideas to run a library with a small staff smoothly, such as keeping storytime supplies in a box to be ready at a moment’s notice. I’m so excited about GeektheLibrary.org that even if my library doesn’t participate in the program, I’ll be a one woman Geek Squad!
The ARSL conference brings great presenters, vendors, and ideas together in one venue. More importantly, it is an opportunity to meet and talk with others who share a love for libraries and small communities. The conference rejuvenates this passion so you return home ready to face the challenges and rewards of working in a small or rural library.
With much hope and trepidation I wrote an essay and was awarded the scholarship to attend my first ARSL Conference. Would I find workshops to fit my needs? Would I have anything worthy to share with others? Would I “fit in”? The “Empowering Small Libraries” conference met my expectations and calmed my anxieties. The sessions and speakers shared not only knowledge, but also introduced me to tools to equip me to better serve my community. Several sessions empowered me with an “I can do it” attitude. Finally, talking to other conference attendees inspired camaraderie of a shared purpose.
My preconference session, Shifting Sands, presented by Bonnie McKewon made me aware of changes coming to libraries of all sizes and some ways to meet the changing needs of our communities and patrons. One of the early sessions with keynote speaker, Lee Rainie, shared Pew research data that confirmed the important role that libraries fill in our community and how that role is changing.
With my mind now set on meeting those challenges and equipping myself to meet them, I made my final decisions on which break out sessions to attend. The presenters were librarians who were willing to share with others how they too could achieve success in specific areas in their libraries.They exemplify what ARSL does best – sharing problems, sharing different ways to overcome those difficulties, and sharing success with others. One presenter mentioned that she plans children’s programs that she enjoys doing. That was a novel thought for me. It made sense, because if I don’t enjoy what I’m doing the program has less chance for success. Mary Stenger, the recipient of the 2013 best small library award, encouraged me with her “if I can do it, you can do it” attitude.
I was also inspired by the presentations from the authors, Craig Johnson and Joe Starita. I enjoyed meeting new people and sharing meals and discussions with them. I enjoyed the volunteers serving at the registration area and everywhere.
I remember the day Becky Heil called to inform me that I was being awarded the scholarship. I was preparing for our summer reading finale and wondering how I was going to do it all. I needed super powers. She remarked that the ARSL conference would make me a “Super” librarian every day. While I didn’t quite receive super powers, I came away with an attitude and knowledge to do my job better. Thank you ARSL and thank you to everyone who makes these scholarships possible. It was an opportunity I will treasure.
My name is Nola Ramirez and I am the branch manager of the Gustine Branch Library in Gustine CA. We are located in the heart of agriculture on the westside of the central valley. City’s population is 5,000. The Gustine Branch Library is small, only a little over 12,000 square feet, and contains 12,542 items and circulated over 8,000 items last year. On March 22, 2013 I will have been running the busy regional branch all by myself for 21 years.
I joined ARSL 5 years ago when I was invited to go to the Conference in Sacramento and felt immediately at home with everyone. Here were people that understood what I was going through and felt. The California State Library has awarded me scholarships for all 5 conferences I have attended.
Being on the listserv has opened up many opportunities for me and the Gustine Community! Recently I received a box of 34 books on CD from TEI Landmark Audio. They were completely free and doubled the number of books on CD that were on my shelves! I was able to order 9 art books from DUC (disadvantaged underserved communities). These books were free also to the Gustine Library. Gustine Library is 1 of 20 pilot libraries for Pushing the Limits. I just found out last week that I am one of the qualifying libraries for the Muslim Journeys Bookshelf. All of the above happened because I am a member of ARSL and on the listserv. Being a part of this wonderful organization has truly opened the world to me and my patrons with opportunities, ideas and friendship with others who understand what rural libraries are really about.
By Tameca Beckett
Youth Services Librarian
Laurel Public Library (DE)
ARSL Board Member
There are so many equations out there that can help determine the value of success. These metrics provide a glimpse, a snapshot into the library in whole or in part. However, metrics, as important as they are, aren’t everything. Usually people talk about an unknown compelling force as the X Factor. But X is an unknown and it is constantly in flux. Rural and small libraries have a very solid constant that I’d like to call the P Factor.
This year I had the great pleasure of attending the ARSL Conference in Raleigh, NC. Throughout all the sessions (fabulous!), what struck me most were the people that attended. I talked with people from all over the country, many wearing two and three hats. We all converged in Raleigh for the common purpose of engaging, educating and encouraging each other. The P Factor that we, as rural and small libraries, have is our people. We have, as a library community, successfully tapped into the value of people connection.
Think about how many patrons you know by their first name. Consider the regulars that don’t even need to tell you what they need…you already know. No, we’re not big, huge organizations. And some might consider this a weakness. I would argue that our size is our strength. This People Factor is engrained in our policies, our level of service, and our commitment to our community. I am so proud to be a part of an organization that “gets” people. We are building our communities one person at a time. And these people that we are pouring our heart and soul into know it. They know who we are and what we’re about…them.
My name is Leslie Langley and I am the branch manager of Wister Public Library, the smallest branch in the Southeastern Public Library System of Oklahoma. SEPLS is a multi-county library system with 15 branches in 7 counties of southeastern part of the state. Wister Library is a two-employee library currently housed in the municipal building, a WPA native rock building. We are in a 1250 square foot end of the building and we have approximately 15,000 items in our collection. We are open Tuesday through Saturday for a total of 37 hours per week. Wister is a tiny town with a population of 1,025 but my service area is large and we serve about 3000 people. The school is the largest employer but there are 2 cattle auctions that draw hundreds of people here each Saturday.
It has always been my goal to be as involved in our community as possible. I believe that none of us are as strong nor as smart as all of us and that small public libraries can play a large role in the lives of our customers and citizens. Wister Library is the business center and ‘visiting’ place in our town. The coffee is always on and we’ve watched strong friendships and business alliances form over the years because of this service. And because I am active in my community I am also active in professional organizations. Being a career-long member of the Oklahoma Library Association led me, eventually, to the recent position as president of OLA. It was immediately after my presidential year that I first learned of the Association for Rural and Small Libraries. Wow! An entire association just for libraries like mine! I immediately joined and learned all I could about ARSL and it’s amazing. I attended the 2011 conference in Frisco, TX and the rest is history. ARSL is an exciting association and every librarian in a rural or small-library setting is doing themselves a great professional disservice if they aren’t members. I also found that once I became a member, it’s so easy to be active. I volunteered my services and was asked to join the Membership Development Committee. The work is important and easy and reaching other rural librarians in the process and getting the word out that there’s a very professional place just for us is an incredible experience.
I’ve been fortunate to have been introduced to ARSL fairly early in my career in my small, rural library through generous funding from our Regional Library System. I’ve attended three conferences and the same number of our much larger state-wide conference. The amount of information and ideas that I get from the ARSL conference totally outweighs what I gain from the larger conference. Not to mention that the ARSL conference has a “feel” that is more conducive to meeting, networking and sharing ideas with people who face the same obstacles, concerns and joys that I face every single day.
Because last year’s conference was relatively close, I chose to send my entire staff to the Saturday sessions. All three of my fellow staff members had the opportunity to attend classes that they were able to choose and network with people who shared like experiences. The amount of ideas, the knowledge that they aren’t the only people in the world facing the same “opportunities” on a daily basis and their increased interest and desire to do the best possible job have been invaluable both to me and our library. Few times can an entire staff enjoy this amount of training and networking for so little an investment?
We have developed many contacts that have helped improve our library, such as being introduced last year to the Geek the Library project – which we implemented immediately upon our return and have used all year. We have received several grants that we were unaware of – but learned of through our ARSL connections.
I am certain that we would not have many of the great ideas for programming and services that we provide our patrons if it weren’t for ARSL. You can be assured that we will maintain our membership and attendance at all possible conferences for many years to come.
Bertha Voyer Memorial Library
Honey Grove, Texas
ARSL has been an amazing addition to my career as a children’s librarian in rural North Carolina. I have attended the last two conferences and brought home with me a fervent desire to utilize many of the things I learned.
The most important aspect of ARSL is the connection to small libraries just like mine. At ARSL we figure out how to make silk purses out of sow’s ears because we don’t have zillion dollar budgets and humongous populations with which to deal.
That said, our rural populations should have as many opportunities with modern technology to do what large library systems do. Our little libraries should also provide as many cool programs with the staff we have and always deliver excellent customer service. ARSL has oodles of sessions on just these concepts.
Wonderful friends and supporters are another facet ARSL has provided to me. Kieran Hixon has been awesome to answer any technological questions I have. Countless other attendees and I stay in touch. It’s great to know there are other folks in libraries just like mine with whom you can bounce ideas or share troublesome issues.
One of many things I have personally taken from the ARSL conferences has been programming ideas. We had a very successful Hunger Games party in March with our teens. I got the idea from an awesome session provided by 4 Texas librarians at the ARSL conference in Frisco last September. The Texas ladies and I were actually going to combine parties through Skype, but they had spring break at that time. Bummer…
For libraries to sustain their importance in every community – now and in the future – it is best for library staff folks to provide excellent customer service, provide access to information in all forms, and to deliver beneficial programs to all members of their communities. ARSL helps library staff acquire the skills to make library lovers out of every generation we serve.
Can’t wait for Raleigh!
Melissa ‘Miss Mel’ Hager
Alexander County Library
We’re pleased to share these outstanding testimonials from members who attended the 2011 ARSL conference in Frisco, Texas last fall.
Gail Sheldon, Director, Oneonta Public Library, Alabama
“I believe the information & networking ARSL provides its members is unsurpassed. Anyone who works in a small or rural library needs to take advantage of all that ARSL has to offer. I heart ARSL! The information is always timely and RELEVANT!”
Darla Nine Covington, Veedersburg Public Library, Indiana
“The ARSL conference has been well-planned with sessions meaningful, informative and “spot on” with the needs of small, rural libraries. Thank you for addressing the issues and needs of our libraries, affirming our purpose and sharing information. This connection with other libraries from across the USA has been a uniting experience!”
David Seckman, Elma Timberland Library, Washington
“This is my first ARSL conference but it won’t be my last. Terrific!”
Norma Fultz, Rio Grande City Public Library, Texas
“This is my first ARSL conference. I have truly enjoyed the conference, meeting new colleagues and the programs I have learned from and listened to many, many informational sessions. Thank you for the opportunity.”
Anna Bates, Assistant Director, Stuttgart Public Library, Arkansas
“It is great to attend a conference where every session is relevant for my small rural library!”
Judy Calhoun, Assistant Director, Southeast Arkansas Regional Library
“It is always great to meet people who share the same problems as you. You make great friends and find great resources.”
Jenniffer Stephenson, Greenwood-Leflore Public Library, Mississippi
“It’s a great opportunity not just to learn through workshops but to network with other rural librarians.”
Kate, Eureka Springs, Arkansas
“My favorite conference to attend — finally “my” people!”
Connie Barrington, Imperial County Free Library, California
“This is a community of like-minded individuals who are all about serving their respective communities. Community says it all.”
Jeffrey Stoffer, Ak-Chin Indian Community, Arizona
“Going to conferences like this reinvigorates my love and enthusiasm for what we do.”
Patty Hector, president Association for Small & Rural Libraries 2008-2009, tells LJ’s Rebecca Miller about her hopes for rural libraries.
During the 2011 ARSL Conference in Frisco, TX, library leaders Kieran Hixon and Sarah Washburn sit under a shady tree discussing the return on investment they receive from ARSL.