Masters Theses

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Master of Science


Agricultural Economics

Major Professor

David W. Brown

Committee Members

Charles L. Cleland, James G. Snell


Small libraries in rural areas are often the only public agency for miles around to which people can turn for help. Is it a worthwhile investment to retain their small numbers or to attempt to upgrade their resources and services at the expense of providing other needs of the community? How do Tennessee and especially its rural communities stack up in providing adequate library service to its information-hungry citizens? Rural libraries, because of the inherent problems of inadequate resources, scattered population, and difficult terrain, in many instances do not meet the standards of service set by the library profession. The literature on library service in recent years has dealt with the problems of urban and metropolitan library service. Little information exists regarding the conditions of rural libraries. This study was an attempt to explore the problems and inadequacies of public libraries in rural Tennessee.

The analysis included three areas of concern: (1) compilation of available secondary data offering an overview of public libraries in the United States and Tennessee; (2) a two-part survey, measuring on the one hand the physical resources of local libraries in East Tennessee and on the other the felt needs of the librarians; and (3) preliminary estimation of costs and benefits associated with upgrading library service in rural counties.

Analysis of existing data showed that the public libraries across the nation face increasing costs of providing various services to their patrons. As the demand for various sources of information has risen, so too has the cost of equipping the library with needed books, periodicals, personnel, and audiovisuals. Comparing Tennessee's public libraries with the American Library Association's Minimum Standards for Public Libraries indicated a lack of adequate library service in the more rural areas.

The respondents of the survey consisted of 12 regional library directors throughout the state and 42 local librarians in the 16 counties of the East Tennessee Development District (ETDD). The first part of the survey dealt with measurable items, such as the size of the library building, number of hours open, and number of personnel employed per library. The second part of the survey was designed to elicit the felt needs of librarians with regard to trends, major concerns, financing, and cooperation with other agencies.

Rural communities, in which the 42 librarians were located, were divided into "small," "medium," and "large" categories for evaluation purposes. The analysis on available resources and services showed that

in "small" communities the libraries fell far short of the suggested standards in hours open, total floor and shelving space, supply of books and audiovisual equipment, and professionally trained staff. For the most part, libraries in the "medium" communities fell short in the same areas. However, in the "large" communities, the libraries met the minimum standards in all respects. They had an abundance of qualified personnel, more than adequate floor and shelving space, and offered much more than the minimum amount of books, periodicals, and services to the public.

In the second part of the survey, respondents in the "small"- and "medium"-sized communities felt the greatest needs were in the areas of adding more space to the existing structure or building a new library and opening more hours. In the larger communities, the librarians were more concerned with expanding their services.

Utilizing the results of the felt needs survey, an attempt was made to study the key inputs and their costs of providing improved service. Added costs and savings of the following selected alternatives were considered: (1) opening the library for more hours, (2) building on more space, (3) constructing a new library facility and equipping it with the needed books, shelves, furniture, and personnel, and (4) setting up and operating two different delivery systems—bookmobile and books by- mail. The preliminary results suggested that non cost considerations may be important in the decision-making process.

It was found during the course of this study that economies of size may be reached in regard to public libraries. This suggests that one large library can operate more inexpensively than two small ones. This does not mean that all small libraries should be abolished but merely implies that if one chooses to expand the number of small libraries or retain their number, it must be recognized that it is not a costless decision.

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