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Research Brief Finds Use of Small and Rural Libraries is Growing in the Digital Age

I write to you from the NYLA Conference in Niagara Falls. While
checking my e-mails this morning I came across a press release from
the Institute of Museums and Libraries (IMLS) about the release of
their latest Research Brief - The State of Small and Rural
Libraries in the United States
.

A link to the complete Brief is at the end of this Post.

The Brief reports that the use of small and rural libraries is
growing in the digital age.

Here is a copy of the press release:

The report gives an overview of the distribution, service use,
fiscal health, and staffing of these important community assets. One
of the report’s surprising findings is the sheer number of public
libraries that can be classified as either small or rural.
The report finds that 6,098 libraries (77.1 percent of all public
libraries) are small libraries and that overall 46 million people
(15.4 percent of the population) are served by small libraries.
Further the report finds that city libraries are being outpaced by
their rural counterparts in providing access to broadband and
e-books.
“This report is a must read for policymakers who are concerned
about the health and vitality of rural America,” said Susan H.
Hildreth, Director of the Institute of Museum and Library
Services. “Whether the issue is education, economic development,
or access to broadband, small and rural libraries are important
communications hubs for people in small towns and rural
locations.”
For this analysis, IMLS developed definitions for “small” and
“rural,” terms that lack widely accepted definitions when applied
to public libraries. “Rural” is defined using locale codes
developed by the U.S. Census Bureau for the National Center for
Education Statistics to indicate any area outside of an urbanized
area or urban cluster. “Small library” is defined as a public
library with a legal service area population below 25,000 people.


The brief’s key findings include the following:

  • Of the 8,956 public libraries in the United States in FY2011,
77.1 percent can be categorized as small. Almost half of all
public libraries, 46.8 percent, were rural libraries. Their
sheer number and broad distribution across the country speaks
volumes about the value local communities place on library
services.
  • In FY2011, there were 167.6 million recorded visits to rural
public libraries, a number that has increased by 4.2 percent
over the past three years, and there were 301.2 million visits
to small public libraries in FY2011, a three-year increase of
4.6 percent. The fact that service use continues to increase at
these libraries at a time when other libraries are experiencing
declines on a per capita basis is a further testament to their
resilience and continued relevance to rural life.
  • There were 49,048 publicly accessible computer terminals in
rural libraries in FY2011, a three-year increase of 20.2
percent. In comparison to urban public libraries, rural
libraries have higher per-capita levels of publicly accessible
Internet computers and e-books. Given the lag in broadband
access in rural communities when compared to suburban and urban
areas, this further emphasizes the strong role public libraries
play in providing access to the critical digital resources that
are directly related to 21st-century skills.

A PDF copy of the complete Research Brief is available at:
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