In rural communities, as in cities, libraries provide “vital social infrastructure that shape the way people interact,” as a New York Times op-ed put it last year. But to do so, some rural libraries are dramatically changing how they work, what they provide, and how they measure success. The reason, as Callie Jarvie, director of the Rock County Community Library in Luverne, Minnesota (population 4,587), tells Rachel Hutton of the Star Tribune, is simple: “Libraries are changing to do our best to fit our community instead of making the community fit us.”
Examples of these changes are not hard to find. Some cases in point:
- Willmar, Minnesota’s library is the leading purveyor of fun in this town two hours west of Minneapolis. It hosts escape rooms, teen lock-ins, an Iron Chef competition, karaoke singing, and a dance party, as well as offsite events like Bad Art Night.
- One librarian in Trinidad, Colorado (three hours from Denver) spends most of her time getting food and services for the town’s homeless population. She uses volunteers to create toiletry packs, and in a town where the local McDonald’s turned off its Wi-Fi and taped over its electrical sockets to dissuade homeless people from plugging in, this library opens its doors early on cold mornings.
- A library in Stanley, Idaho installed a router outside and offers benches and power outlets so residents can get online when the library is closed. And the La Veta Public Library in rural Colorado is sending out a “pop-up computer lab” with high-speed public Internet access and training resources to every corner of the county—at hours beyond the regular work week.