When You're Serving a Small Community...
(A Personal Look at Rural Librarianship)
Interview of Michelle Self by Gayle Roberts
Michelle Self, Librarian at the Shelton Township Library, talks to the NLAQ about services the library provides to her smaller community, the challenges she faces, and the dreams she has. Visit the Shelton Township Library at http://www.sheltonlibrary.com/
1. What size town do you serve?
The Shelton Township Library serves a community of about 800 people. It's a very diverse population. We have toddlers that come in, teens, and adults. I believe our oldest patron is 98 years old, and he still comes in every week. We have different ethnic backgrounds as well, and that can be a bit of a challenge because I have to keep materials on hand for everyone. There's a private school outside of town, the Platte Valley Academy, and they come once a week or so. This is a religious school, and they are fairly strict about what the students are allowed to read, so I try to keep materials around that they can use as well.
2. Who governs your library?
The Township Board and the Library Board.
3. What is your biggest challenge?
No doubt in my mind - MONEY! There is just never enough -- and I know we all say that, but never enough for a big library system doesn't mean you shut your doors. For me, it does. Our township budget was just cut almost $20,000 by the [Buffalo] county officials. That leaves very little money to go around. The Township has to take care of roads, the library and the cemetery. Well, it's pretty easy to see that they'll cut the library before the roads and the cemetery. I've just been offered my position for one more year, and we're looking at a possible closing in summer if we can't come up with funding, or if the county cuts any deeper.
4. What do you enjoy the most? What is most rewarding?
I just love that I know everyone. I've gotten to know everyone that comes in our building and enjoy a lot of friendly relationships with the town folk. I coach the girls' volleyball team, too, and so I'm almost a celebrity in town. My favorite, of course, is the kids. Libraries affect a kid's life, and around here, the library serves as a social center as well as a library.
5. What frustrations do you have?
I'm the only one that works here in the library, and we host lots of parties and events throughout the year....so one of the things I find frustrating is finding volunteers. Everyone loves coming in the library, but it's hard to find people to help. I have a core group of about 4-5 people, but I hate always having to ask the same people to do things.
6. What do you volunteers help you with exactly?
They're great for the kid's parties. Last year at Halloween we had a huge party and there were over 100 kids. We have dances, and gym practice; all kinds of things go on here. Since I'm the librarian, clean up crew, fix it man and event planner, I need their help! I know this might sound silly, but I'm the worst at hanging paper on bulletin boards, so I have the volunteers do it. It's great, cause it helps the community feel a bit of ownership.
7. You've talked about money problems. Are you able to do much in the way of grants or fundraising?
Yes, and no. This last Christmas season we did a "tour of homes." It was so much fun! We lined up seven homes that offered to let people tour and look at their decorations. We had cookies and punch at the library and then took the tour. All in all we raised about $600.00, which was just outstanding. We've already had people call and offer their homes up for next year! The town businesses help us out as much as they can, also.
8. And the no?
It's pretty hard for us to get grants right now, because we've lost our accreditation. With our money situation, we just couldn't keep it up.
9. That brings up a good question - how about support systems? Who do you have to turn to?
Well, really, no one. As far as I know, there aren't any associations for small county libraries or the such - and I've gotten a little help from the commission. They came out one time to teach me how to use the computer, about three years ago, but I think that's been about it. When I found out about our accreditation being revoked, I called to see if someone could come talk with my Township Board and explain the process to them, and why it's important, but no one has. I was so frustrated. In desperation, I called the Meridian Library System rep and she offered to come talk to my board. I didn't know she could do that! I'm so thankful I at least have her, she's saved me a few times. I don't know how it will all turn out, but at least it's somebody higher up in the system then myself. Sometimes I think the smaller boards need to understand that we're part of a bigger state system. I do get summer reading program information. Sometimes I think we're just in our little world, and the rest of the world is "out there," know what I mean? I check the websites when I have time, but my spare time is limited.
10. Are you a member of NLA?
No, I'm not. I always mean to, but then my energy level is drained by closing time and I don't get it done. My time commitments are a concern though ... I can't volunteer much of my time, 'cause there's no one here if I'm gone!
11. Do you have a wish list?
Heck ya! It probably seems silly, but we need things like normal supplies - toilet paper, kleenex, cleaning supplies. We always need craft supplies and books. Nothing major ....except we have a wall collapsing that needs repair desperately, and I've been wanting to paint the library for almost three years now. Then, during the big ice storm this year, the building next to us caught fire, so we have smoke damage.
There are a few big ticket items, besides the building itself, like a small refrigerator would be nice. And more computers! We currently have five, and we do have internet access; but I have more and more people coming in all the time to learn how to use a computer, and we could really use more. That's what we've earmarked our "tour of homes" fundraiser money for.
12. You are one busy lady. Thank you for taking the time to talk with me ....any last thoughts or comments?
Only that I love what I do. Sometimes that's overwhelming. I believe we provide a service this community needs; not just with books and computers, but with ties. We're just like a community center; what with dance classes and tumbling, adults and kids coming in for this activity or that. We're part of the social fabric. Our library friends group does their best, the volunteers give their time and I give whatever I can, including out of pocket expenses. We have the bookmobile come; we trade with area libraries, and try our best to provide what our patrons need.
My greatest wish is that our future here was financially secure. The community has access to surrounding city libraries, but we're the local good guys. We're the ones they've always turned to, and I hate the thought of letting them down. It's hard when you believe in what you do, and you know you make a difference, and still face the reality of closing.