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Small and Rural Libraries

This guide surveys current issues and challenges faced by small and rural libraries.


Small and rural public libraries are community anchors and information lifelines for the areas that they serve. This guide aims to survey current issues and challenges faced by these institutions. The resources are intended for library science students and LIS professionals interested in learning about the unique circumstances in which these organizations operate and persevere. The information and resources are classified into five broad—and often interrelated—categories of challenges: economics, technology, geography, community, and the COVID-19 pandemic.

Defining "Small" and "Rural"

In a 2013 report titled The State of Small and Rural Libraries in the United States, the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) developed clear definitions for what constitutes a “small” or “rural” library. “Small” is defined as having a legal service area population of less than 25,000. “Rural” is defined based on using locale codes developed by the U.S. Census Bureau for the National Center for Education Statistics to indicate any area outside of an urbanized area or urban cluster. Other professional organizations, such as the American Library Association (ALA), have adopted these definitions and frequently use them as eligibility criteria for grant funding opportunities.


General Resources

  • Association for Rural & Small Libraries (ARSL) - The ARSL is a non-profit organization and professional network that supports small and rural libraries through advocacy, creating resources, establishing partnerships, and fostering professional development.

  • Challenges and Opportunities Facing Rural Libraries in Utah - Kari May of the Utah State Library draws on her experience working in rural libraries to present challenges and opportunities unique to these institutions.

  • Keeping Up With... Small and Rural Libraries - This article published online for the Association of College and Research Libraries (ACRL) looks at the current challenges facing small and rural libraries. The author, Rebecca Freeman, is an Assistant Librarian at the University of South Carolina-Lancaster Medford Library.
  • Rural Libraries in America - This infographic was created by the IMLS and uses data from the 2017 Public Libraries Survey (PLS) to illustrate the services and impact that rural libraries have had on their communities. 
  • Small and Rural Libraries Discussion Paper - This paper produced by the OCLC Members Council provides a comprehensive discussion on the demographics, success factors, and information needs of small and rural libraries.
  • The State of Small and Rural Libraries in the United States - This research report, completed by the IMLS in 2013, provides the first targeted analysis of trends of small and rural library services. Specifically, the IMLS reports on the distribution of small and rural community libraries, their service use, fiscal health, and staffing models.

The ASU Library acknowledges the twenty-two Native Nations that have inhabited this land for centuries. Arizona State University's four campuses are located in the Salt River Valley on ancestral territories of Indigenous peoples, including the Akimel O’odham (Pima) and Pee Posh (Maricopa) Indian Communities, whose care and keeping of these lands allows us to be here today. ASU Library acknowledges the sovereignty of these nations and seeks to foster an environment of success and possibility for Native American students and patrons. We are advocates for the incorporation of Indigenous knowledge systems and research methodologies within contemporary library practice. ASU Library welcomes members of the Akimel O’odham and Pee Posh, and all Native nations to the Library.