I just returned from the 2015 conference of the Association of Rural & Small Libraries (ARSL) held in Little Rock. Wow! The enthusiasm, energy, creativity, and collegiality of these librarians are extraordinary—and especially so, given the very limited resources that many of them have available to serve their communities. And ARSL itself is on a fine upward trajectory, concluding their successful conference with record attendance exceeding 500 participants. ARSL truly lived up to the conference theme of “Rockin in Little Rock.” Also, we were pleased to augment the ALA divisional presence from the Young Adult Library Services Association (YALSA) and the Public Library Association (PLA).
My colleague Marijke Visser and I talked about our work at a session entitled “Information Policy: We’re from Washington, and Yes, Here to Help You.” We provided an overview of national information policy and advocacy, steeped in concepts and learnings from the Policy Revolution! initiative, using our recent E-rate work as a case study to explicate the nuts and bolts of the practice of public policy in Washington.
We are exploring the possibilities with respect to rural areas as a priority focus in the coming two years for the Policy Revolution! initiative. Indeed, that was the main impetus for Marijke and me to go to the ARSL conference. We spent an evening with a number of thoughtful librarians from the ARSL community, including newly-installed ARSL President Jet Kofoot. They had a number of ideas for us to consider as we develop a strategy as well as providing feedback on some of our ideas and questions, confirming some things we thought would resonate, but also providing some critical feedback.
I greatly increased my knowledge about small and rural libraries at conference sessions. For example, I learned a lot about stealth (passive) programming—activities in which users themselves contribute much of the work. The classic example is the library’s summer reading program—the library designs the program, but users check out, read, and record the books they read. There are many variations of this theme such as a “1000 Books before Kindergarten” program. But there are a host of other programs that include ways to share favorite comic books, local self-published books, scavenger hunts, and jigsaw puzzles.
Perhaps the newest insight for me is that small and rural libraries, often operating with very lean budgets and resources (and space!), become creative by necessity. These libraries may well represent an underestimated resource in contemplating the future of libraries.
We have worked with ARSL in the past, notably collaborating with them on last year’s monumental E-rate proceeding. We look forward to a closer working relationship in the future.