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Rural Librarians Expecting Changes In Future

Rural Tennessee librarians expect the role and image of their libraries to change in the future to become more community-oriented gathering spaces, according to a study published this fall in the Journal of Education for Library and Information Science.

Those same librarians also said they ore training on how to manage and deal with their staff and library users, and their libraries needed more Internet access and up-to-date computer hardware and software.

"What is the Value of LIS Education? A Qualitative Study of the Perspectives of Tennessee's Rural Librarians" presented exploratory findings from a qualitative study on the perspectives of 44 rural librarians about the value of Library Information Science education in improving their services.

It wasn't a school-library focused study, but the importance of libraries to a community's education and overall well-being made it worth reading. This issue appears to be available only by subscription.

Researchers had four main questions:
• What are the most critical information needs of rural clients in Tennessee's libraries?
• What are the most important information resources and services provided to rural clients in Tennessee's libraries?
• What is the value of LIS education in maintaining and improving Tennessee's library services to rural communities?
• What is the future role of LIS education in the context of changes experienced in Tennessee's rural libraries in the 21st century?

Librarians said the most important resources and services they provide to rural users included: computers, Internet, Internet and computer training, and information resources. Accordingly, those were some of the areas librarians cited when discussing their needs.

One of the findings that struck a chord with me was librarians expecting their sites to become more social, community centers where residents would gather and grow personally and professionally. That seems like a sensible evolution; many schools are trying to extend the use of their buildings beyond the school day and serve as community centers, so why not libraries expanding their offerings?

One participant said, "I think it's very important that libraries face up to the reality that we must get rid of the 'shush,' that we allow people to eat and drink. Don't burn any books! And we have live rock music and coffee shops and all the other things that university libraries and public libraries are starting to do." Few disagreed, according to the article.

Another said, "libraries as a community space, that's the big push right now ... people are looking for that and it is partly economic, because they can't afford to go to movies, they can't afford to go out. ... They want a place that they can gather with other people and the library is free, they can do that there."

The article wasn't broad enough to be able to relate these findings to libraries in other settings, but researchers said it gave them a basis for comparison for further studies to look at other states and regions.

Interesting side note: this research was one of four selected by the Association for Library and Information Science Education as a 2011 ALiSE Best Conference Paper Award Winner. Congrats to the authors, Bharat Mehra, Kimberly Black, Vandana Singh and Jenna Nolt.

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