Rural Library Service & Social Wellbeing Project Overview

Beginning with a rich question set: Are libraries a component of social wellbeing in resource poor geographies? If so, what practices to they employ? we launched this IMLS funded, three-year nation-wide research, resource, and education project in 2018.


Beliefs that inform our work

The project team came to this work with a set of beliefs that informed the way in which it was developed. As a group we reject the myth of objectivity and embrace the humanity of our subject and ourselves. We:

  • respect community life, in all its complexity and nuance,
  • make our data accessible and research transparent,
  • are driven by curiosity and humility in the face of data,
  • strive to bring value to our research subjects, not continue a legacy of extraction that has damaged so many of our subject communities.


Phases of Quantitative Research

Our initial phase of quantitative analysis across four social wellbeing dimensions, examining specific data points for our subject communities in economic wellbeing, lifelong learning & cultural engagement, physical & mental health, and place-making & the environment is complete. We will continue to grow this dataset to uncover nation-wide understandings.


Phases of Qualitative Research

There were two communities chosen, with guidance from the project Advisory Board, from each US Census Region. In just four months, the research team collectively spoke with over 200 community members in Marshfield (VT), Cranberry Lake (NY), Helvetia (WV), State Line (MS), Plum Lake (WI), Meservey (IA), El Pueblo de Abiquiu (NM), and Elk River (ID). From these conversations emerged the codes that illuminated the pathways to wellbeing which were evidenced in the locations we visited.



Resource Development & Dissemination

The research team and local library partners are here! Currently, all members of the project team are reading initial findings, code analysis, and field reports to check for resonance and accuracy. And to begin translating this work into useful resources.

Resource Development Summit 2020 – The global COVID-19 pandemic disrupted our plan to meet in March 2020 – research team with all eight library partners – in Fairhope, Alabama to develop evidence based resources for libraries interested in improving social wellbeing with their communities. As well as our “by August 2020” timeline for library partners to have education opportunities scheduled in a region near you! At this time, the team is holding off on scheduling any in-person sessions until the future is clearer.

In addition to gobs of writing, with the help of our local library partners (from a distance) we are actively developing Evidence-Based No-Rules Tools which will release for testing on a rolling basis mid-April through mid-June 2020.


Methodology – Principles in Action

Although we completed an initial round of quantitative data analysis in November 2018, we continue to pull data and re-examine that analysis to better understand the qualitative findings. This iteration between quantitative and qualitative research will continue throughout the work as community conversations point us to quantitative data we hadn’t thought to look at, and as that data enriches our understanding of the field.

Our field research methodology owes a debt to MIT D-Lab’s Lean Research Framework which helped this group of public librarians develop a methodology aligned with our professional ethics.

The codebook which emerged from the field is framed around the ten codes displayed at left: contribution, infrastructure, knowledge/ discovery, nature, preservation, voice/ power, shared identity, social connection, support, and to be seen / feel known. What the list of codes can’t immediately describe is the weave of reciprocity evident in community life and in belonging.

This work would not have happened without the generosity and commitment of our nine local library partners. They handled field research logistics, have read and informed initial findings, and will develop independent and learning resources for librarians nationwide. This research is their story.


Get Involved!

Get the latest tools for testing delivered straight to your email box by filling out this form here! We are looking for public libraries of all sizes and types from every state.

Do you call shenanigans on some of these findings or see evidence that runs to the contrary? Contact us! Let’s talk! Learning should not be static!

Over 2020 and into 2021 detailed field reports, findings, and policy briefs will be published here. This research is active and ongoing through at least 2021 and this website has scheduled and committed maintenance through 2029.

Overview | Pathways to Wellbeing