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SUNDAY CONVERSATION: How do libraries shape communities in rural settings?

Tens of thousands visit libraries each year in the Finger Lakes region.

Local libraries host community events – both educational and recreational – frequently serving under-served populations. In rural settings these facilities are even more important.

Entering the home-stretch of a busy holiday season – we caught up with two individuals tasked with leading the daily operations of two local libraries.

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Shannon O’Connor, direct of the Edith B. Ford Memorial Library in Ovid, and Chelsea Hastings, director of the Interlaken Public Library help connect the community through their operations respectively.

“We rely so heavily on volunteers,” explained O’Connor, who added that the value of volunteers is critical for any operation – but especially one with the challenges that those in places like Ovid and Interlaken face. “Our board is comprised of volunteers and we’re always connecting with new people to fill additional volunteer opportunities.”

Hastings echoed that sentiment, and noted that for a lot of people – the library is much more than just a destination for books. She said that the range of events held annually, combined with the career and relationship development between young and old make libraries in Interlaken, Ovid, and similar communities – a truly important staple.

The rise of technology has helped these defacto community centers fill voids in this arena. By providing internet and computer access – libraries present rural communities with things that are either unaffordable to local residents, or simply unavailable due to geography. It has also created a new theme of events that happen regularly at both libraries. “We’ll provide training and troubleshooting opportunities for those who need it at the library,” explained O’Connor. These events are sometimes geared toward older generations, which provide an ideal opportunity for collaboration between library users.

Events at local libraries have been popping up over the last several years – which take tech-savvy young people, and allow them to work with older folks who are interested in learning more about how to use various pieces of personal technology, or even have a specific problem to troubleshoot. “It’s a really great way to build community,” added Hastings.

Even with the successes, though, challenges are plenty at these small, rural libraries. Whether it’s spacial challenges – where there isn’t enough physical space to accommodate certain thing – or fiscal ones, it doesn’t discourage Hastings or O’Connor.

“It’s not discouraging. This is why we do it. We’re here to serve the community,” Hastings and O’Connor concluded.

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