Library Research Seminar VII

Adkins, D., Bossaller, J., Brendler, B., Maras, M., Pryor, C., Townsend, K., & Ward, D. (2019, October) Challenges and capacities for libraries supporting rural health. Paper presented at the Library Research Seminar VII, Columbia, South Carolina. *  

Rural areas are dotted with small towns, often hundreds of miles away from each other or the nearest metropolitan area. These areas have common challenges: limited internet connectivity, fewer infrastructural resources, and populations with less education, lower socioeconomic status, and often fewer job opportunities. At the same time, rural areas have strengths such as a community orientation, an ethos of practicality and resourcefulness. Health solutions that work in urban and metropolitan areas often fail in rural areas, because the designers of those solutions do not recognize the challenges and strengths of rural residents. Rural areas in the United States are suffering an increase in worrying physical and mental health trends, including rising suicide rates, rising rates of addiction, higher rates of chronic disease and cancer, and limited access to health professionals (Rural health, 2017). Urban public libraries have addressed some of these challenges by providing consumer health information (Rubinstein, 2012), as well as hiring nurses and social workers to assist patrons in need (Johnson, Mathewson, & Prechtel, 2014). However, these solutions are not always practical in rural areas. Schools, churches, and public libraries often serve as anchoring institutions in rural areas. In this paper, we explore two questions:

1. What is the capacity of rural school and public
libraries to support community health?

2. What are the challenges faced by rural school and
public libraries in supporting community health?

This project uses a mixed-method design that involves interviews and focus groups with rural public and school librarians to articulate some of the issues they face, a survey of librarians to determine how prevalent various challenges are, and interviews with health and support professionals in rural communities to assess their perspectives on how libraries can support community health.
Preliminary interviews with rural librarians indicate that some of the challenges they face are lack of administrative and community support, lack of funding, and social stigma patrons may face at being identified as having a problem. Some also noted a community ethos of stoicism and “sucking it up” rather than complaining or talking about problems. Additional interviews, focus groups, and survey administration are scheduled for the future. Results from this research will be used to create and evaluate scalable strategies for rural public and school libraries who
wish to support community health needs.

Johnson, K., Mathewson, A., & Prechtel, K. (2014). From crisis to collaboration. Public Libraries, 53(1), 32-35.

Rubinstein, E., (2012). From social hygiene to consumer health: Libraries, health information, and the American public from the late nineteenth century to the 1980s. Library & Information History, 28(3), 202-219.

Rural health concerns. (2017). MedlinePlus.