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A Boon for Small and Rural Libraries

Dunkerton (Iowa) Public Library

Millions of dollars are heading to libraries in small and rural communities across the country, thanks to a major grant initiative from the American Library Association (ALA).

On Monday, ALA announced it would be distributing $3.6 million to 310 libraries across 45 U.S. states to help increase the accessibility of their facilities, services, and programs for people with disabilities. Fifty libraries will each receive $20,000, while the remaining 260 will receive $10,000. Eligibility for the grants was limited to libraries in communities with populations of less than 25,000 and located at least five miles from an urbanized area.

The latest cohort of grant recipients is the second round of funding for small and rural libraries as part of ALA’s Libraries Transforming Communities (LTC): Accessible Small and Rural Communities program. To date, 465 libraries across the U.S. have benefited from the grant program.

Serving patrons with disabilities

Approximately one in four of all U.S. adults—61 million people—report living with some type of disability. That rate jumps to one in three adults in rural areas, where residents may face additional barriers to participating in public life such as transportation problems, access to rehabilitation services, and lower socioeconomic positions. According to the CDC, making rural communities more disability inclusive and accessible could help improve health and well-being in these areas.

Data from the Institute for Museum and Library Services—the federal agency that provides funding support for U.S. libraries and museums—indicates that nearly 40% of America’s public libraries are located in rural communities, where they serve more than 30 million people. While all libraries face challenges with serving people with disabilities—from limited funding and personnel to older buildings with inaccessible facilities—these challenges are compounded for small and rural libraries that have less access to resources than larger urban systems. The goal of the LTC grants is to close that gap.

“Each of these 465 libraries will begin or continue projects that will improve library access for thousands of library users across the nation,” ALA President Emily Drabinski said. “This initiative will have a lasting impact on these small communities and beyond, bringing a much-needed light to the library field.”

Among the funded proposals are the Columbia Falls (Mont.) High School Library, which will create an anti-bullying campaign to combat a rise in cyberbullying incidents against students with disabilities; Dunkerton (Iowa) Public Library, which plans to help older adults with mobility issues, people who are deaf or hard-of-hearing, and those who are blind or low vision fully participate in library services; and Beals Memorial Library in Winchendon, Massachusetts, which will continue its efforts to support individuals on the autism spectrum with enhanced sensory-friendly programs.

A full list of selected libraries is available on the ALA website.


Photo: Dunkerton Public Library in Iowa is a recipient of a $20,000 grant from the American Library Association to improve its services to people with disabilities. Photo via Dunkerton Public Library website.

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