Rural Libraries; Evolving Roles & New Challenges

2 minute read

Speakers: Dan Owens, Sheri Miller, and Lorena O’English

Coordinator: Alice Schroeder

Meeting Summary:

The April 7 zoom meeting on this topic was part of the Pullman League’s update study on our local libraries. Unfortunately, we were unable to record it. The three speakers gave us much information and were followed by an in-depth question and answer period. Lorena O’English, the Social Sciences and Government Information Librarian at WSU provided background on rural libraries in the US. The majority of US libraries are small and rural. They serve 10% of the population and these rural counties are generally more diverse and poorer than urban counties. Not only do they provide traditional written and recorded resources, they are a very important resource for internet access and connecting people in their communities. Sheri Miller, interim director of the Whitman County Rural Library District and Dan Owens, adult services librarian at Neill Public Library provided an overview of their libraries. Whitman County Libraries consist of 13 branch libraries and the Colfax library. They serve a population of about 15,000 in an area of 2,156 square miles. The libraries are supported by the ability to levy a tax on all property in the district. This makes for reliable, but lower than necessary funding. Volunteers and donations are very important to the library. The library has been very active in helping its patrons gain access to internet services, providing laptop and wifi hot spot checkouts and many internet resources. Neill Public Library is supported by city funds. Cities have a broader tax base, letting the library be better funded. Currently it accounts for about 7% of the Pullman City budget. However, this funding has been severely cut when fiscal problems surface. Donations and volunteers are also important, especially when the city must cut the budget. Neill serves about15,000 people but they are located in a small dense area of 10 sq. miles. Since many other entities in the area connect people and internet service is more available, Neill focuses more on providing traditional and internet resources. During COVID both libraries worked to make their resources accessible in new and inventive ways, providing curb side pickup, expanded internet access and resources and new ways to deliver education and fun for families and especially children trying to learn from home. They learned much about being flexible and inventive and will keep trying to be so.

Whitman County Rural Libraries, Evolving Roles and New Challenges is the title of the meeting on Thursday, April 7, 2022, Evening Zoom Program, 7:00 PM.  Picture of library books and the league logo.

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