Can community engagement help public libraries renew relationships with shrinking rural youth populations?
Heather Reid and Vivian Howard interview Nova Scotia’s librarians for their study ‘Connecting with Community: The Importance of Community Engagement in Rural Public Library Systems’. rural public libraries
The study collected information on current community engagement initiatives, particularly efforts to engage with youth of all ages (0-18 years), being practiced in rural Nova Scotian public libraries,
Nova Scotia’s largely rural public libraries, write Reid and Howard, operate with a population-based funding strategy. Costs continue to rise; yet, more young people migrate to urban centres. The study investigates community engagement efforts of libraries looking to attract young patrons and suggests that these strategies may not only help libraries deliver responsive services, but also revive civic life in these communities. It places community engaged-libraries in the broader context of the demographic challenges facing Nova Scotia and related funding challenges faced by public library systems.
The total provincial population of Nova Scotia adds up to a little less than a million, the study notes. Apart from a major urban hub, its population is spread widely across the primarily rural province. The authors interview librarians from eight of Nova Scotia’s nine public library systems, finding its public libraries run on a funding formula that relies on a mix of community, municipal, and provincial fundraising channels. Declining rural populations, and tax bases, are straining resources for library systems who have to not only serve scattered populations, but also cope with stagnant or decreasing funding. Despite having no formal guidelines on community engagement in library systems, the authors note there is evidence of a strong commitment to engagement in each of the interviewees.
Sally Hussey is a Melbourne-based writer and Bang the Table’s Senior Managing & Commissioning Editor of Content and Research. She has an extensive background in the publishing, academic and cultural sectors.