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

A portion of the project’s local library partners chose to continue work in the Creation Team. Since March 2020 they’ve been steeped in research findings and translating these findings into interactive reflections and assessments for the benefit of other libraries. In fall 2020 they’re using evaluations gathered from tool testers from around the US to revise and rework the resources they made earlier in the year. The final tool-kit with additional learning resources will launch as an interactive online space in early 2021.

Additional analysis of data is ongoing! Look for publications in open access journals and distributed through your favorite email lists, including our findings about public library directorship in rural communities. For previously released pre-prints, check out OSF.

What we heard

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.

Have questions? Get in touch!

Rural Library Service & Social Wellbeing Project
Southern Tier Library System
Painted Post 14870
8 am – 4:30 pm EST

Library patron supervising child patrol cooking waffles
Four white women at a table
paper lanterns
View down into valley