This is a complete list of resources and products from the Rural Libraries & Social Wellbeing project. It’s long so we recommend you use the links on the right.

If you don’t see something you expected to find, don’t hesitate to email: research @

Briefs & Summaries

Research & Policy Brief: 2021

Summary of Field Findings

Tools in Action Annual Report: 2021


Rural Libraries & Social Wellbeing Event Calendar

Interactive StoryMap and writing about what we found when we visited each of the eight Rural Libraries & Social Wellbeing participating communities.

These data were combined, cleaned, and analyzed to better understand rural communities. The often means that some of the boundaries simply aren’t sensible in urban neighborhoods. For instance, our Graduation Rate investigation using a binary for whether or not there is a public library in the district is relevant in remote rural districts where 30% of districts have no public library outlet within their boundary, but less so in urban districts where the number falls to 5%. We hope that for our urban and suburban colleagues will still find use in the Data Crosswalk file which will facilitate analysis across blocks, tracts, school districts, counties, and public library locations.

Interview Quotes Database you can filter

Data Crosswalk: Library Outlet to Identifiers is an .xlsx file of every public library outlet recorded in the Institute of Museum and Library Services Public Library Survey outlet file mapped to every geo-political boundary we’ve run into when looking at social wellbeing indicators: state legislature zones, school districts, and tribal governance areas. To download the data crosswalk click here.

Survey of Directors serving Isolated Rural Communities

National Data: Test Score Achievement & Public Libraries by School District (combination file from SEDA project data & IMLS PLS Outlet files): Summary analysis of the Stanford Education Data Archive pooled data (combined averages over both math and reading/language arts standardized tests for grades 3-8 within a school) averaged at the school district level depending on whether the school district is rural or non-rural, and has a public library in the district or no library. Consistent with other education outcomes studies, rural districts have lower achievement estimates than the national average and much lower than their non-rural counterparts. When analysis is limited to rural school districts, those with public libraries have achievement rates still lower than the national average, but much higher than their rural counterparts without libraries. SEDA is a decades long project with robust tools for researchers. See their excellent work here, and the documentation for their estimates here. To go directly to the downloadable file, click here.

National Data: Graduation Rates & Public Libraries by School District (combination file from NCES district shape, IMLS PLS Outlet, Ed Data Express and ELSI data): Having a public library correlates with a multi-percentage point gain in graduation rates, regardless of district make-up. This collection of graduation rates from 2013-2018 with the inclusion of district characteristics (locale code, total expenditures per student, percentage of students with individual education plans, etc.), and a library dummy variable is available with all five years as individual observations (over 61,000 rows with all district characteristics, and original graduation rate values per gradyear), or as a dataset of five-year averages with one observation per school district in the dataset. Districts with missing characteristic data, and those graduating 10 or fewer students were dropped from the data before analysis. To go directly to the downloadable file, click here.

National Data: Life Expectancy & Public Libraries by Census Tract (combination file from NCHS USALEEP, NCES Locales, and IMLS PLS Outlet using above Data Crosswalk): As Sing & Siahpush (2019) demonstrate, the gap in life expectancy between rural and non-rural residents has been widening, with greater disadvantages for individuals born in rural communities. Using the USALEEP dataset matched to locale codes and public library locations, being born rural means 37 fewer expected weeks of life. But if that tract has a local public library, you can expect to get 35 of those weeks back. To go directly to the downloadable file, click here.

Research Articles

There are no published articles that have completed the peer-review process. What follows is our list of pre-print papers that are currently under review. It should be expected they will be amended and updated repeatedly from now until publication.

Pathways to Wellbeing: Public Library Service to Rural Communities” is what we consider our primary paper. This means it gets into more detail than any other published work about exactly what we did, why we did, and what we think we found.

Rural Library Directors and Social Wellbeing: An Evidence-Based Approach to Practice” is the paper which addresses our research which focused specifically on rural public library directors. It includes an overview of skills and dispositions we heard about and witnessed, as well as a discussion about barriers they face in local practice, and in gaining due respect in the profession.

Research We Built on & Reference Often

Rural Libraries & Social Wellbeing began, in part, to better understand how “Strengthening Networks, Sparking Change: Museums & Libraries as Community Catalysts” applies to rural communities and their libraries. Our quantitative data analysis is built directly from the data indicators recommended in this paper. And our interview questions and analysis are influenced heavily by the ideas of the authors.

Economist Amartya Sen and Philosopher Martha Nussbaum have been talking about capabilities for a few decades now. Our work is our best attempt at understanding how core capabilities can be seen and are experienced in rural communities. Creating Capabilities: the Human Development Approach is the book that most directly shaped our understanding.

Founder of the Leadership Institute at the Santa Fe Indian School, Carnell Chosa wrote the tightest, most resonant paper, “Attaching Your Heart: Pueblo Community Engagement” (link goes to his more complete dissertation by a similar name). The research team read the article after we had conducted our field interviews in 5 of the 8 communities and were trying to find language for the kind of reciprocity, mutualism, freedom, and belonging we were hearing about. Dr. Chosa gave us language and understanding for that.

There are many other thinkers and doers we reference in our work and who have shaped our understandings. One other requires a special mention: Bharat Mehra. More than any specific research or paper he has written (of which there are many), Dr. Mehra’s body of work gave us permission to discuss issues of marginalization in rural communities and in librarianship explicitly. His work is critical, it is insightful, and it gives no credence to a bucolic notion of an rural American idyll.


The resources found in the Toolkit were made by public library directors and managers serving rural communities for their peers and colleagues. They’ve been tested and edited by library staff in small towns around the country. Here is a list of each tool with a description. To browse by category or use the Getting Started tool, visit the Toolkits page.

For people who know they want the whole collection in print, here is the .pdf file. For a booklet spread for commercial printing, click here.

Awakening to Community Potential: This tool will help you think about how much your library currently serves as a facilitator of community potential, your blindspots, and to the potential that lives in some groups of people in your town.

Building Local Political Voice & Power: This tool is to help you think about how you can make your local formal political process easier to understand for everyone in town. It may give you some ideas for how to facilitate your community members building their voice through self-made action.

Burnout: Identification & Prevention: This is an interactive no-judgement quiz which finishes out with self-care tips to help you create your own burnout prevention plan.

Community Support Assessment: This tool will help you consider the ways in which community residents, the library, and you support one another. It also asks you to brainstorm ways to improve those networks of mutual aid.

Creating Community Building Events: This tool has reflective questions to help you plan a community-wide event that draws in individuals from various parts of your local community and makes new connections for them.

Dare to Dream: Visioning Your Library: This tool will help you look at your library with aspirational eyes and open you to think in new ways about facilities planning.

Engaging with the Community on Wellbeing: Here you will find step by step guidance on engaging with your community as well as clipboard ready questions to take out of the library and into your neighborhood.

Fostering Knowledge & Discovery: This tool is designed to help you assess your work towards fostering lifelong discovery and knowledge in the library and in your community.

Is Everyone Welcome at Your Library: This tool will help you identify who is and is not using your library, and evaluate your current library practices to ensure inclusion.

Library as Community Welcome Center: This tool provides a series of considerations to help you see the library as a newcomer would. And to build resources that support them learning to make their way in their new town.

The Library Director: This tool has two parts: first a set of reflection questions to help you identify what qualities of a librarian your community needs most; and second, a set of interview questions that a library board can adapt to their hiring needs.

Nature: Going Beyond the Walls of the Library: This tool will help you reflect on how their library currently supports their community’s connections with the natural world and investigate new opportunities for the library to support and engage with the community in natural spaces

Pathways of Belonging: Contribution: Designed to help you assess how your community and your library facilitate contribution, this tool helps guide your thinking on belonging.

Pathways of Belonging: Delight: Delight hooks visitors and tethers long term residents to your library and to the community that can builds a sense of home and contributes to belonging. This assessment is a series of questions to help you reflect on how your doing on this front.

Pathways of Belonging: Seen & Known: This tool will help you think about the value of making patrons feel known in your library, and ways in which you can use personalized services to make them feel valued and appreciated.

Preservation & Community Story: The following is designed to help assess first your community and then your library work toward building resident belonging through a preservation pathway, and identify realistic ways to improve.

Safe & Secure in Your Community: This tool will help facilitate a better awareness of available resources for community members to improve Physical and Mental Health outcomes by building a sense of Shared Identity as well as Individual Voice and Power.

Uncertainty: This is a series of reflective exercises to help the user unpack where uncertainty exists, what impacts it has on their life, and identify strategies that work for them to process through the feelings and impacts that come with uncertainty.

Youth Empowerment: This tool will help you think through how your library can facilitate knowledge sharing to the younger generations, as well as some concrete ideas to get you started. The goal is to give children a way to be independent and inspire them to take the initiative to be self sufficient and productive.

Tools in Action Program

Tools in Action was launched in 2021 as a micro-grant and guided practice program to assist rural library staff persons in finding the time to do the sometimes challenging work of reflection and assessment. For more information about past cohorts and future plan, go to Tools in Action.


Resources for Wellbeing. Panel discussion for WebJunction with Emilie Braunel (WI), Jerianne Davis (WV), Susan Green (VT), and Richard Styre (ID), moderated by Margo Gustina.
This is a recording of the live webinar Working Toward Wellbeing: Setting Your Compass Heading, hosted by the Southern Tier Library System. In this session we discuss what social wellbeing is and how it is practiced. We focus in on the foundational need for awareness, understanding, and respect of who is in the community and how they operate.
This is a recording of a live webinar in the Working Toward Wellbeing series hosted by the Southern Tier Library System on May 14, 2021.
This is a recording of a live webinar in the Working Toward Wellbeing series hosted by the Southern Tier Library System on May 28, 2021. The recording begins after introductions, acknowledgment, and thanks.

This is a recording of a live webinar in the Working Toward Wellbeing series hosted by the Southern Tier Library System on May 21, 2021. It gives a detailed overview of Rural Libraries & Social Wellbeing products and resources.