"I DEFINITELY THINK there are more similarities than differences ...," said Janine Reid, district librarian of Colorado's Delta County Public Library District (DCPLD), comparing rural and urban libraries. "There is one big difference. In a rural library we can be closer and more personal, and that's an improvement over an urban setting. Because we know everyone involved, we can get to them faster. We see results much more quickly. The work that I've done here was visible in two or three months. In one of my other jobs it would have taken two or three years."
Reid is one of the key reasons the rural DCPLD is the first in LJ's new "A Day in the Life" series. Her career has taken her to urban and suburban public and special libraries plus stints in private, profit-making firms like Faxon.
Our day at DCPLD shows that, in fact, every library and library system is unique and has unique problems but that there are as many similarities among all types of libraries as there are differences. The experience taught us that small libraries have much to teach big ones and vice versa.
"Everybody knows everybody here--there's no anonymity!" Reid continued, as we drove through the sparsely populated county. "That close, personal contact makes things work better, but it has a downside. You have to be more careful about how you express your opinions and what kind of attitude you project. You could be talking to the mayor's cousin."
The most common type
The small, rural public libraries like those in DCPLD are the most common type of public library in America. Of the 8,968 public libraries identified by the Public Library Data Service of the Public Library Association in 2001, 5,462 were in communities with populations of 9,999 or less. Some 3,991 were in towns with fewer than 5000 people.
Delta (population 6400) is the largest town with a library in DCPLD. Counted among the 366 inhabitants of Crawford, the smallest town with a library in DCPLD, is rock star Joe Cocker. Cedaredge (pop. 1,854), Paonia (1,497), and Hotchkiss (968) are the other three towns with libraries. The system serves a number of other small towns plus 13,869 people who live in the vast unincorporated areas of the district.
To achieve financial stability, these five totally separate libraries formed a library district in 1993. Many local observers noted that they didn't really want to cooperate at first. They were fiercely independent and wanted to maintain their own identities and be governed by their own citizen boards. They would …