Report from Rebecca Miller’s presentation at Association for Rural and Small Libraries Annual Conference, Columbus, Ohio, September 26-29, 2007 by Bonnie Dwyer for the Maine Library Community.
I attended the Association for Rural and Small Libraries (ARSL) Conference in Columbus, Ohio in October, 2007. Several Maine librarians attended, thanks to the generosity of the Gates Foundation’s “Rural Sustainability Project.”
One session entitled “What it takes to be The Best Small Library in America” included several inspirational ideas and projects. Rebecca Miller, Executive Editor for Library Journal, explained that the award was developed for libraries serving populations under 25,000. ALA realized many libraries in this category (78% of U.S. public libraries) were not qualified to compete with larger libraries served by ALA’s Library of the Year Award.
Miller commented that the applications for this award were inspiring and included similar characteristics that set them apart, such as:
- Demonstrating response(s) to changing community needs;
- Expanding the reach of traditional library service;
- Collaboration with other organizations;
- Pulling together the community.
Best Small Library Award
The Best Small Library in America award includes a cover story in Library Journal, membership and conference costs for two to attend Public Library
Association (PLA), plus a cash award recently increased from $10,000 to $15,000.The annual award, now in its 4th year, is co-sponsored by the Gates Foundation. The award includes these components (1) to provide the winner with an advocacy tool (the article in LJ); (2) to address the gap in professional development by exposing smaller library staff to the PLA conference; and (3) to get recognition and money for resources.
Library Director Herb Landau spoke about the diverse programs and services offered by the Milanos-Schock Public Library in Mt. Joy, PA, winner of the 2006 Best Small Library in America Award.Mt. Joy is in Lancaster County, PA. The library started as a small storefront with a bequest of $ ½ million which was matched. They were joined by four other towns; funding is by annual appeal to each town, fundraising, and state aid. The state forced them to improve their services in order to receive state aid.
When Landau became library director in 2002, he surveyed the community to ascertain its needs. He wanted the library to be a lifelong learning center for the community. During his remarks, Landau made several points worth considering:
- View the library as property of the community, not the library staff or board.
- Give priority to those not served by any other public education or information agency, meaning pre-schoolers and seniors.
- Adopt a philosophy of being the community’s “third place”– outside home or school/work (Ray Oldenburg).
- Excellent service generates community support.
Programs and projects at Mt. Joy, PA:
- Lending laptops (LSTA grant)
- Monthly “Cooking and Culture” program to foster understanding between immigrants and community
- “Snorey” time (bedtime story hour)
- Computer classes for seniors and the homebound (LSTA grant)
- Science programs (PBS grant)
- Van for home delivery: “Reads on Wheels”
- Einstein outreach program
- Lending toys and puzzles
- US Passport application acceptance agency [generated $25,000]
- Annual benefit auction & book sale
- Selling books on ebay
- Pet calendar
- Offer computer and online job-hunting instruction to laid-off job seekers (Penn State statistically evaluates the effectiveness of computer instruction programs)
- Opened computer instruction lab with donated computers and volunteer instructors
- Payroll deduction donations via the local teachers union
- Lions Club reading machines
- High school service clubs do yard work & other community service
- ESL classes
- Provide meeting room
Landau’s parting thought was, “What we are doing is valuable and we have to let people know we are doing it!”
This was only one of several excellent programs available at the ARSL conference. I feel this is an important conference for Maine librarians to consider attending. The membership and registration costs for the ARSL conference are quite reasonable, and the conference itself is smaller than most national library conferences. This might be a good one to consider for a “first-timer.” The 2008 conference will be in California.
Bonnie Dwyer is the Maine Central Library District Consultant.