Mobile Public Library: Solutions to Rural Libraries

Environment by Sybil Brigham McShane

The Institute of Museum and Mobile Public Library Services (IMLS) has funded the State of Vermont Department of Libraries to start a two-year project called “Mobile Library Literacy”. This will examine whether mobile library services can be used in rural and suburban areas for the 21st century. The U.S. Secretary of State for Vermont announced the grant. Senator James Jeffords said that the grant was intended to promote reading, technology and access to books. It will expand the library’s walls… and invite all Vermonters into the learning community. Mobile library outreach services, such as bookmobiles, have been used for years to offer information and library services to rural residents. In Vermont, which is the most rural state in the country, not one bookmobile was operated between 1974 and 1998. Only 8% of bookmobiles are located in towns with fewer than 10,000 people.

The Vermont Department of Mobile Public Library will grant grants to local libraries that work with school districts, schools and other community organisations. These grants will be used to provide mobile library services in a county, school district or regional setting. Flexible grants allow each applicant to adapt their project to local needs and requirements. However, the emphasis will be placed on partnerships, service for all ages, and sustainability beyond the two year grant period.

In 1998 and 1999, the Department supported two pilot projects that showed how partnerships and coalitions can provide mobile library services in Vermont. These partnerships could be the key to providing library services in rural areas or with small libraries. They also harken back to the roots of “bookwagon” services in Vermont when the Federation of Women’s Clubs helped to cover the costs of these services.

This project aims to determine if mobile library services are viable options for rural and suburban communities in the 21st Century. Is mobile library service effective in attracting people to the library?

This grant series will help us to determine the best service area for Mobile Public Library services in rural Vermont. We also hope to show that small public libraries can provide mobile library services at a low cost when they partner with regional and local organisations. It is crucial to determine the right scale for these outreach services in rural/suburban Vermont in order to provide cost-effective mobile library services.

Mobile Public Library: The Past and the Future

William J. Gilmore’s book, Reading Becomes A Necessity of Life: Cultural and Material Life in Rural New England 1780-1835, explains that between 1780 and 1835, a series of subtle but profound cultural and material changes changed the way rural life was lived. [1] Gilmore continues to explain how the five traditional senses were now enhanced by a completely new act for the majority of people. The sixth sense of reading, with its complex interaction of the eyes, ears, mouth and touch, provided a new way of learning about the world. [2]

Rural society is again facing such changes and challenges in the “information age”. In his paper “Twenty-First Century Literacy,” Dr. Bertram C.. Bruce, Professor of Library and Information Science at University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, states that “literacy is never static.” “In the workplace, literacy has taken on a greater role.” This new type of literacy is not just basic reading and writing. It also requires the ability to use reading to solve problems or communicate complex information. 

Rural communities, schools, libraries, and other institutions must find ways to keep up with 21st-century literacy. Some solutions may be completely new and untested, while others could be old and familiar, but repackaged and repackaged.

Vermont Profile Mobile Public Library

Vermont is small and rural. According to the 1990 census, Vermont was rated the most rural in the country. This is likely to change with the 2000 census [4]. Vermont is 43rd among the 50 states in terms of geographical area (9,615 sq miles) and 49th for population (608,000).

Vermont is like most New England counties, with no strong regional or local governance. Instead, the state government and its various departments work directly alongside towns, communities, and cities.

Vermont can be described as a collection of rural communities with nine cities, 236 villages, and 60 towns. Nearly 70% of Vermonters lived outside the city in 1990. Since 1960, people have moved to rural areas at an accelerated rate. Between 1960 and 1990, Vermont’s rural population grew 59% while urban population grew 21%. The number of Vermonters who live in rural areas is increasing as a percentage of the total population [5]. Burlington, Vermont’s largest, had a population of only 39,127 in 1990. This number is expected to decrease by 12.3% by 2015.

Many parts of the state have lost their historic settlement patterns due to the advent of the automobile. Low-density single family subdivisions are increasingly reaching into the countryside where villages used to be separated from farms and forests.

Due to the growing rural population, people need to drive more to work, shop, and for leisure. The number of vehicles travelled in Vermont has increased by a staggering amount. Vermont had 390,000 residents in 1960. Drivers logged approximately 1.6 billion miles within the state. These numbers rose to 580,000 Vermonters Mobile Public Library in 1995 and 602 billion miles had been travelled [7]. Currently, commuters account for around one-third of all vehicle trips in Vermont and across the country. According to the 1990 Vermont census, 72% of Vermont workers commuted by car to work. This is an average time of just 18 minutes. 8. Less than 1 percent used public transport [8].

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