It has been a little over a year since I became the director of the Pioneer Memorial Public Library in Harman, West Virginia.
While I have lots of library experience, it was primarily in urban areas. This is the first rural, remote library that I have ever worked in. While the size of our collection and our patronage might be small, I have learned some BIG library lessons here. Please allow me to list in descending order the Top Ten Things I Have Learned About Rural Libraries.
10. I cannot please all of our patrons. Although it may cause me sadness when I cannot find the book or material that a patron requests, I can feel good knowing that I have tried my best for them. If our library doesn't own a book, I can offer to buy the book (if it will appeal to others) or inter-library loan the book.
9. Being in charge of a library is a lot like owning your own home. You will always have projects on your "to do" list, and it is impossible to have everything perfect. Somedays, the hours fly by and I realize that I have been so busy helping patrons that I have had very little time to do other things, like cataloging, ordering library supplies, or eating lunch.
8. My best ideas for the library and for buying books come from the patrons. Don't let salespeople at publishing companies persuade you into previewing books. Your patrons are your best source of ideas for books to buy for your library.
7. The patron who is in front of you is more important than any task at hand, unless your library is on fire. Good customer service is the key to a successful small library. Listen carefully to every complaint and suggestion. This is better than any focus group or survey.
6. Know the difference between a teaching moment and when you can just provide a service for your patron. While it is great to try to teach someone how to use a word processing software, if they have limited reading and writing skills, you may both be better off if you just type and write for your patron who needs a flyer created or a letter written.
5. Keep an updated list of talking points for community members, members of the legislature, your board of trustees, and potential donors. Your library is important. Why is it important? Make a list, spell it out, make sure you have a few bullet points that you can tell someone else to remind them of the services offered by the library. An example, "This year, we are reading nonfiction books about animal habitats to help reinforce Content Standard Objectives for Pre-K to third grade."
4. Don't make any major changes for the first six months to one year. Take time to assess the culture of your library and to absorb the process that has evolved. After time, evaluate what works well in the library and what does not. Try changing or tweaking small aspects of your library to improve services or information organization. Evaluate your changes to make sure that they are in line with the mission of your library. (Also, remember that when you effect change you are also changed by the thing you are changing.)
3. Genealogy and tourism play an important part of the activity at a rural public library. At least once or twice a week, we receive visitors who are researching their family trees or copying their genealogies. We have many local genealogies that have been lovingly collected, typed, and hand-written by local researchers. Tourists use the library as a place to use the restroom, stretch legs, get directions, and check email.
2. Libraries have a long and loyal following. The wonderful thing about libraries is that so many people have a warm, and perhaps nostalgic, connection to public libraries. It's easy for me to sell the value of reading and libraries to this natural audience.
1. A small library in a small town may be more important than a big library in a big town. Why? Because in urban areas the general public has a variety of access points for the Internet or buying books, from Starbucks to Barnes & Noble. In a rural community, people may not have access to broadband Internet or bookstores. And it's not just my crazy theory--The Institute of Museum and Library Services conducted a recent report that says the same thing here.
I still have a lot to learn about Harman, West Virginia at the Pioneer Memorial Public Library. Maybe I will report back in another year on the lessons I have learned in our sweet, rural library in Randolph County.