Why a Small Underfunded Library?

I have had several people ask me why I chose to be the director of Highwood Public Library.  My heart has always resided with the small and rural libraries in this country.  I firmly believe, and this is just a belief, that small libraries make the biggest difference in the lives of their community.

What do I mean by that?  Huge and well funded libraries, like Naperville or Elmhurst, serve wealthy areas.  The community in which they serve typically have the access and/or funds to gather whatever material they seek.  The residents of these communities enjoy the library, but they often do not DEPEND on the library.  Yes, of course this is a generalization and not a truth about every member within the community, nor is this to diminish what these libraries do.  These communities typically have excellent school systems, with strong park districts and other organizations to match.

However, the small and economically disadvantaged communities do not have a plethora of community organizations to address the needs of people.  One well-run and excellent organization can make a huge difference.

I do think it is a travesty that the small libraries are overlooked and not represented by the larger library community.  Yes, I fall into the trap as well.  I presented on eReaders yesterday for LACONI, however I know full well that the library I am going to got it’s first website in 2010.  YES, in 2010.

Society often discusses the cycle of poverty.  Well, how does that apply to libraries?  Is it inconceivable to think that a small library cannot afford to send someone to a program on granting writing (especially when those programs are held in the richer areas)? The same library also cannot send someone to learn about technology.  So the libraries that need these programs the most simply cannot attend.  They then find themselves even further behind.  The community in which the library reside only becomes more aware that the library is not filling their needs and cuts their funding further.  Do you see the cycle?

I did not get in the business to become rich and/or famous.  I got in this business because I firmly believe that libraries “save lives” and alleviate isolation, confusion, and loneliness.  I believe that at the heart of any strong community beats a great library.  I believe the best citizens of any country walk through the doors of libraries.

If you believe any of this, then accept this challenge.  Find a small library and offer to help.  How many of us could get some type of website up in a matter of hours?  How many of us could explain what an open-source solution is to someone who doesn’t know?  How many free resources do you use on a daily basis that small libraries may not even know about?  Could use explain best practices in reference, readers’ advisory, cataloging, ILL, management, technology or some other area to someone who has never heard of it?

Do you know that the knowledge that you spend a lifetime making dies with you if you don’t share it with someone else?

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7 Comments

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7 responses to “Why a Small Underfunded Library?

  1. cynthia landrum

    And the let the library say, “Amen!” Just think I missed church this morning, but I was blessed with the Word anyway. Thanks, Anthony!

  2. Benjamin Haines

    This is an excellent idea. I’ll see if I can find some web space (or an email list) where librarians can offer skills and request help. Unless this already exists? I seem to recall Jessamyn talking about something similar in Vermont?

  3. Benjamin Haines

    That said, doesn’t the Library Success wiki, overseen (?) by Meredith Farkas, fulfill this purpose quite well? (http://www.libsuccess.org) It could perhaps be enhanced with even more how-tos, rather than just links, but it seems like even the most underfunded and understaffed library could put together (e.g.) a simple website, find a grant to develop public-access technology, or get great ideas for reaching underserved communities using the resources available there. Perhaps the call should be to contribute to making this resource even more comprehensive, and advertising it more widely? (I just stumbled across it, myself. But it’s a goldmine, no foolin’.)

  4. Benjamin,

    Excellent points and suggestions!

  5. martinez

    We’re thrilled to have you in Highwood.

  6. Mr. Martinez,

    I too am thrilled about this opportunity. I can only hope that I meet and exceed the needs and desires of the residents of Highwood.

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