Rural Libraries Seen as Centers for Hope and Learning

Article excerpt

Rural libraries seen as centers for hope and learning

"LAND IS PLACENTA, IT IS LIFE. WITH it, the farmer creates new wealth.... The rest of you just exchange checks," said Anne Kanten, Minnesota Assistant Commissioner of Agriculture, at "Rural Roots," the Public Library Association (PLA) conference-within-a-conference on country libraries April 3.

"In rural America," Kanten continued, "there has been an earthquake followed by four tidal waves. The firsth tidal wave was the dust bowl of the '30s which swept away most black farmers and many poorer white farmers on marginal land. The second tidal wave swept up those who took the advice of bankers and overextended themselves financially. The third wave will board up all the small-town main streets. The fourth wave will leave us a landless people ... I am angry."

Kanten believes that the domino effect of Iowa farm foreclosures is more to be feared than Sandinista dominos. Yet for all the crises she described, her message was one of angry hope. When her grandchildren, the potential fifth generation on her Minnesota family farm, were born, she planted trees. These trees, she said, are like the knowledge available in rural libraries. The libraries are centers for hope and learning for all country people, she said, but they cannot be passive. We may need to water the trees of hope with tears of despair for the agony and death of our farming heritage, she said, but water them and hope, we must.

Prairie home librarian

Some 250 people participated in the 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. "Rural Roots" programs presented by the PLA Small and Medium-sized Libraries Section Rural Library Services Committee. They were warmly welcomed by John Christenson, director of the Traverse des Sioux Library System, Mankato, Minn., who coordinated the programs.

Christenson's wit and insight reminded many listeners of another Minnesota small-town resident, Garrison Keillor of Lake Woebegon. Christenson, who is in his third term as mayor of Good Thunder, pop. 560, said that in rural life, oral communication is the primary means of information transfer. The required service profile at a rural library should be likened to the Good Thunder American Legion Cafe, where patrons want a more personalized delivery of information that can be found in city newspapers, television news, or most libraries.

Kathleen Gates, a professional psychologist from Good Thunder, used recorded music, literature, and psychological readings in her address, "What It Means to Be Rural," a lyrical and moving presentation of rural life's joys and sorrows.

Between the main presentations by Gates and Kanten, conferees could choose from 12 small-group sessions in four time slots covering a broad range of concerns. …