Reginald Williams, Director of the Ecorse Public Library, is a champion and a supporter of small libraries, suggesting they are key to the industry’s future success. With print collections and budgets down, more libraries may be the answer, but smaller ones. The Ecorse Public Library serves a population of 9,226 and is one of the smallest of the system’s 75 members. My staff knows most of our regular patrons by name, and many of our visitors tell us they like our library because of its cozy environment. We are part of a cooperative in which each library is independent but can take advantage of select shared services like TLN (The Library Network) and digital collections. In a world of large multibranched regional libraries, however, Director Williams has typically viewed our size, and corresponding tiny budget, as somewhat of a detriment. Director Williams’ argument is quite compelling and should make us take pause to re-evaluate.
Director Williams notes that few patrons are willing to drive a few miles to visit our library. He then argues that local governments should focus on developing and maintaining the Ecorse Public Library as our library and our staff so we can better target our collections and offerings to the specific needs of our constituents. Additionally, he suggests that small libraries can also become a de facto community center and strive for a one-stop experience for residents and visitors. In the long run, this can also save costs by generating revenue.
Finally, Director Williams notes that, with more and more resources moving online, patrons are likely to relish the personalized face-to-face interactions that come with a small library. Certainly, this is one amenity that Google or Amazon cannot compete with.
There are both advantages and disadvantages to public libraries of different sizes. Larger libraries have the boon of more spacious facilities, and, ideally, higher budgets. They are also able to lend deeper, more diverse collections. Smaller libraries are able to offer a more intimate customer experience. Small libraries also tend to be located in more convenient, pedestrian-friendly locations. Unfortunately, libraries of all sizes can experience similar frustrations with advocacy, funding, and more. There is, unfortunately, some degree of uncertainty for the future of all libraries. There is, however, a couple of important elements which can contribute to the survival of small libraries. Community support, that includes schools, local government, businesses and patrons. Remember, community participation is key!