Twelve months ago, I entered the library world as a Children & Youth Services Coordinator in rural Bath County, KY and both the struggles and the joys that come with serving this community continue to surprise me. To give you an idea of my county, you need to know exactly what I mean by rural.
- approximately 1000 people in town
- 12,000 people in the county
- 80% of the population live in poverty
- Transportation is a major concern
- few people having the means to purchase gas for a car
- no forms of public transportation – no shuttles, buses, or taxis; no Uber or Lyft.
- Aging community
- Few local businesses
- No major industry
- Illiteracy is high
- Public education is poorly funded
All of this means that the library is very necessary and yet viewed as an unnecessary relic. Many people continue to believe that the library is for people with money who can afford to pay for fines, fees, and membership. I regularly see surprise on the faces of children and adults when I explain that not only is the library free, we don’t charge late fees. We are fighting an uphill battle through these struggles, but I am not writing this blog to share my woes or to complain. I want to share the successes we have had in the face of these challenges.
Before I began work at our library, a new director with a vision was employed. He and the staff here began new programs and remodeled the downstairs portion of the library, making it more inviting to patrons and updating things. When I began in April 2017, I dove into summer reading and reached twice as many patrons as previous years with the addition of a toddler story time and extending the length of the program.
After summer reading concluded, I started creating regular story times for young readers and afterschool programs for students. I continued to struggle in the realm of middle school and high school students. However, after attending KLA in fall, I approached the high school librarian armed with donuts and ideas and we sat down to plan out a book club that would meet at the high school during homeroom. We started meeting in November and now, I have a regular group of 12-15 teens that meet every Monday morning. Out of this group, 5 students have volunteered to form a teen advisory council. Six months ago these students did not even consider the public library as a place they could go to read, to be safe, to find empathy and love. Now they do and they want to help.
Meanwhile, I joined ALSC and participated in the mentorship program. My mentor suggested I reach out to the elementary school to grow the relationship there. Because our public school system is so under-funded, we don’t have a full time librarian at the elementary school. The high school librarian works one day each week at the elementary library. I had already spoken to her about this, so I knew that I needed to speak with teachers instead. My mentor suggested going to the 4th and 5th grade science teachers and offering to provide STEM activities once a month. I followed her advice and reached out to these teachers. I was met with enthusiasm! I started visiting their classrooms in February and have now been to each classroom four times! Through these visits, the attendance in my afterschool programs for elementary students has grown from 5 to 15 children. Additionally, other teachers are now inviting me to visit their classrooms, to teach lessons, and to help with resources for student projects.
Despite the struggles of low income, lack of transportation, and a skewed view of the library, we are beginning to make a difference in the community. Attitudes are shifting and children and teens are beginning to see that we are not the scary, quiet place they once thought us to be. We are teaching them to love learning and to seek out knowledge within our walls.
Our guest blogger today is Crystal Laiben. Crystal is the Children & Youth Services Coordinator at Bath County Memorial Library in Owingsville, KY. Crystal is also participating in the ALSC mentorship program as a mentee this year and is writing this post about her experiences in rural Kentucky at her mentor’s suggestion.
Please note that as a guest post, the views expressed here do not represent the official position of ALA or ALSC.
If you’d like to write a guest post for the ALSC Blog, please contact Mary Voors, ALSC Blog manager, at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This post addresses the following ALSC Core Competencies: I. Commitment to Client Group, III. Programming Skills, and V. Outreach and Advocacy.