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Turning A Page Inside A Rural One-Room Library

Oct 21, 2013
Originally published on October 22, 2013 3:37 pm

There's one state highway running through Myrtle, Mo. It's a sleepy town in the Ozarks, population about 300. There's no bank or restaurant here, but enormous oak and persimmon trees loom over a small stone building right next to the road. Half of it is a post office; the other half, a one-room public library.

Rachel Reynolds Luster took over this branch four months ago with the goal of creating a learning hub. She calls herself a curator, not just a librarian.

Her first task? Filtering out some of the favorites of the previous librarian.

"It's been interesting working this transition with her," Luster says. "She was quite upset that the cooking magazines were gone. But we recycled them all, and we kept some holiday cookie editions."

Luster scanned her shelves for the one book she felt every library must have: the Greek epic The Odyssey. "I looked, and we didn't have one — no library in our system had one," she says.

Connecting Rural Communities

While the Myrtle library receives taxpayer money, it gets only $200 a month for books and supplies. So Luster has used social media to garner donations from people around the state. She's already secured about 1,000 new books.

She's one of thousands of rural librarians trying to bring a sense of community, learning and connectedness to their isolated areas. The Institute of Museum and Library Services estimates that nearly half of America's public libraries are rural, and many of those are staffed by only one or two people.

"Often, the library is the only place in a small community that people can go to access technology, to fill out job applications, to continue their learning," says Tena Hanson of the Association for Rural and Small Libraries.

She says libraries in remote places are lifelines for rural communities because the Internet doesn't always reach towns with rugged terrain.

Adventures In Reading

The Myrtle branch is open only three days a week. So far, Luster has hosted bake sales, book fairs and weekly story time for kids. That's in addition to her duties as a mom, the parent-teacher organization president, the fiddle player in a band and a Ph.D. candidate.

One of Luster's patrons is 10-year-old Blake Brooks. His dad is a truck driver, and his mom stays at home with their five kids.

Before discovering this library, Blake's favorite pastime was digging up worms and beetles. Now, he steps off the school bus, finishes his chores and homework, and just ... reads. He says he likes to imagine he's in the books he reads.

On this day, Luster has a thick green book waiting for him. It's The Hobbit, by J.R.R. Tolkien. Blake has never heard of it before. He checks out the book, tucks it under his arm and heads off to start his next adventure.

Copyright 2013 KSMU-FM. To see more, visit http://ksmu.org.

Transcript

RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

Imagine this: A library in a sleepy Ozarks town with shelves crammed with paperback romance novels and cookbooks. There's one librarian whose computer is the rare spot in town connected to the Internet. That's the scene for one woman working at a tiny outpost branch of her county library

Jennifer Davidson of member station KSMU has this profile of one of thousands of rural librarians trying to bring resources and a sense of community to isolated areas.

JENNIFER DAVIDSON, BYLINE: There's one state highway running through Myrtle, Missouri, population about 300. There's no bank or restaurant here, but the enormous oak and persimmon trees loom large over a small stone building right next to the road. Half of it is a post office, the other half a one-room public library.

RACHEL REYNOLDS LUSTER: I do see myself as a curator, much more than being only a librarian.

DAVIDSON: Rachel Reynolds Luster took over this branch four months ago, with the goal of creating a learning hub. Her first task: weeding out the favorites of the previous librarian.

LUSTER: It's been interesting working this transition with her. She was quite upset that the cooking magazines were gone. But we recycled them all...

(LAUGHTER)

LUSTER: ...and we kept some holiday cookie editions.

DAVIDSON: Luster scanned her shelves for the one book she felt every library must have: the Greek epic "The Odyssey."

LUSTER: And I looked, and we didn't have one, no library in our system had one.

DAVIDSON: This library is part of the county system. And while it receives taxpayer money, it only gets $200 a month for books and supplies. Luster has already secured about a thousand new books; most were donated by people she reached out to on social media. Today, she's recommending picture books to two young girls.

LUSTER: And this one is a visual artist named Paul Thurlby...

DAVIDSON: Luster's patron is 10-year-old Blake Brooks. His dad is a truck driver and his mom stays at home with their five kids. Before discovering this library, Blake's favorite pastime was digging up worms and beetles. Now, he steps off the school bus, finishes his chores and homework and just reads.

BLAKE BROOKS: Yesterday, I was reading and I fell asleep, and the book hit the floor and it scared me.

DAVIDSON: On this day, Luster has a thick, green book waiting for him. He's never heard of it before. It's "The Hobbit" by J.R.R. Tolkien.

BROOKS: No, it looks like they're in - one of them live in an underground house.

TENA HANSON: Often, the library is the only place in a small community that people can go to access technology, to fill out job applications, to continue their learning.

DAVIDSON: That's Tena Hanson with the Association for Rural and Small Libraries. She says libraries in remote places are lifelines for rural communities because the Internet doesn't always reach towns with rugged terrain. The Institute of Museum and Library Services estimates that nearly half of America's public libraries are rural, and many of those are staffed by only one or two people.

The Myrtle branch is only open three days a week. So far, Rachel Reynolds Luster has hosted bake sales, book fairs, and weekly story time for kids. That's in addition to her duties as a mom, the PTO president, the fiddle player in a band and a Ph.D. candidate.

(SOUNDBITE OF MACHINE)

DAVIDSON: Young Blake Brooks says he likes to imagine he's in the books he reads. As he checks out "The Hobbit" and tucks it under his arm, he heads off to start his next adventure.

For NPR News, I'm Jennifer Davidson.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

MONTAGNE: This is NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.