The Institute of Museum and Library Services has released a research brief providing the agency's first targeted analysis of trends for rural and small library services. 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, The State of Small and Rural Libraries in the United States, provides much needed clarity on definitions of 'small' and 'rural' and will serve as an excellent resource for building awareness of the critical work of these libraries.
"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."
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.
Additional information about the report is available in the IMLS press release.