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ALA announces recipients of $1 million in community engagement funding for small and rural libraries

CHICAGO — The American Library Association (ALA) has announced the recipients of nearly $1 million in funding for small and rural libraries, the second grant distribution as part of the association’s Libraries Transforming Communities: Focus on Small and Rural Libraries initiative.

The funding will enable libraries to lead community engagement efforts in more than 300 small and rural communities on topics like the COVID pandemic, mental health, public land use, the climate crisis and Black history. Grant funds may be used to cover a range of expenses, including staff time and collections and technology purchases.

“Through community engagement, libraries are continuing their important work on literacy and access, while also working to fill gaps in other areas that may not have fallen to libraries in the past,” said ALA President Julius C. Jefferson. “We are excited to provide the resources for hundreds of libraries to take on new challenges in their communities and look forward to seeing the great things they accomplish.”

The 317 funded proposals — public, academic, school/K-12, special and tribal libraries — represent 45 U.S. states. Eligibility was limited to communities with populations less than 25,000 in accordance with Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) definitions.

View the full list of grant recipients. Below is a selection of funded proposals:

  • Mineola Memorial Library (Mineola, Texas) will host a discussion about their community’s Black history. The event will be held at a local theater and will give older African American residents a chance to speak about their experiences at the segregated high school, which closed in 1965. “Black history of Mineola, especially the McFarland High School, is fading from many memories,” said Library Director Mary Hurley. “It is a good time to look back on how far the community has come in the last 50-plus years to continue to grow together as a community.” 
  • With 66 reported COVID deaths in their rural county, “there is really no one inside our county who has not been touched in some way by the death of a friend, family member, or coworker,” says Kevin Pearcey, director of the Greenville-Butler County Public Library (Greenville, Alabama). The library will lead conversations with students about the impacts of the pandemic and collect stories to document this moment in history.
  • South Arkansas Community College (El Dorado, Arkansas) will discuss food insecurity with its student body, the majority of whom live in low-income rural areas. Information gathered in these conversations will help the college library determine plans for its SouthArk Library Learning Garden, a previously unused greenhouse owned by the college.
  • Debates over COVID-related topics, such as mask-wearing and distance learning, remain contentious in many areas of southeast Alaska. Sitka Public Library (Sitka, Alaska) will draw from rural Alaska’s powerful history of past epidemics — including tuberculosis and smallpox outbreaks that heavily impacted Native Alaskans — to have conversations about the pandemic, offer historical context, and build upon oral histories previously collected by the library.
  • Oklahoma has the tenth highest suicide rate in the nation, and the state’s youth suicide rate has more than doubled since 2007. In the city of Antlers alone, an average of 11 people die by suicide every year. Antlers Public Library (Antlers, Oklahoma) will lead a community conversation to raise awareness and talk about prevention, an initiative they are calling Project Brave. 
  • Waimea Public Library (Waimea, Hawaii), the westernmost public library in the United States, will partner with the County of Kaua’i to engage residents in the planning and design process for Waimea 417, a 400-acre piece of land newly purchased by the county. “Our goal is to encourage local residents to participate in this public process so that they feel more like they have a say in government,” said Branch Manager Michelle Young.

Two hundred grants were awarded during the first round of Libraries Transforming Communities: Focus on Small and Rural Libraries in January, for a total of 517 participating libraries. 

Each library will receive online staff training in how to lead conversations, a skills vital to 21st-century librarianship, and $3,000 to support their proposed community engagement work. Community engagement is the process of working collaboratively with community members — library users, residents, faculty, students or partner organizations — to address issues for the betterment of the community.

ALA announced plans in fall 2020 to award nearly $2 million to small and rural libraries in 2020 and 2021 to help them address issues of concern in their communities. 

Since 2014, ALA’s Libraries Transforming Communities initiative has re-imagined the role libraries play in supporting communities. Libraries of all types have utilized free dialogue and deliberation training and resources to lead community and campus forums; take part in anti-violence activities; provide a space for residents to come together and discuss challenging topics; and have productive conversations with civic leaders, library trustees and staff. The initiative is part of ALA’s longtime commitment to preparing library workers for the expanding role of libraries. Learn more at

Libraries Transforming Communities: Focus on Small and Rural Libraries is offered in partnership with the Association for Rural & Small Libraries (ARSL).

About the American Library Association

The American Library Association (ALA) is the foremost national organization providing resources to inspire library and information professionals to transform their communities through essential programs and services. For more than 140 years, the ALA has been the trusted voice for academic, public, school, government and special libraries, advocating for the profession and the library’s role in enhancing learning and ensuring access to information for all. For more information, visit

About the ALA Public Programs Office

The ALA Public Programs Office empowers libraries to create vibrant hubs of learning, conversation and connection in communities of all types. Learn more at 

About the Association for Rural & Small Libraries

The Association for Rural & Small Libraries (ARSL) is a network of persons throughout the country dedicated to the positive growth and development of libraries. ARSL believes in the value of rural and small libraries and strives to create resources and services that address national, state, and local priorities for libraries situated in rural communities.  

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