Strategies to Overcome Challenges Using PLIX Activities in Your Context?

Working with eight libraries in Phase 1 of the PLIX Rural & Tribal Library Toolkit Design, we identified five strategies rural libraries and PLIX might use to address some common themes around challenges or opportunities those libraries face. These strategies and the related contexts are based on our observations during conversations with a select group of librarians. You may find common ground in this list, or you may have something to add! Please tell us more by replying.

Strategy 1. Drop-in Programming

We can create exhibition areas, or design guiding materials as table tents while including space for playful exploration / departures (i.e. to be PLIX-like, these should not be step-by-step guides with predictable outcomes). We can write suggested scripts for facilitation moves that can be done without full engagement. These can be questions and prompts that a librarian can use to launch an activity from a circulation desk.

  • Challenge: Low staff count and low patron flow-through
  • As described by a rural librarian: Small libraries often have very few staff on site, sometimes just one person, so it’s not feasible to provide a lot of hands-on support for patrons during a workshop. For example, I’m seen as a mentor for the teens, but I am often stuck at the circulation desk. How can I engage them without running a full-blown workshop?

Strategy 2. Take-and-Make Kits

We can find or create take-and-make kit templates, and then share them on the PLIX website.

For youth, some areas can take advantage of 1:1 laptops from schools to offer remote programming paired with these kits.

  • Challenge: Bad rural connectivity / Pandemic disruption
  • As described by a rural librarian: Our patrons are staying home, and rural places are often not connected to the internet reliably. Our patrons live far from the library and may not be able to stay at the library for extended periods or return frequently. Take home kits let them explore PLIX activities at home.

Strategy 3. Locally Relevant Framing

We can find ways to connect PLIX activities to traditions and interests of our local community.

  • Opportunity: Trusted civic center
  • As described by a rural librarian: Our library is the only place in town that provides a place for all ages to gather. Sometimes we want a sustained program to bring the community together and build pride, or to reinforce/revive local traditions of culture/heritage, or to highlight the potential of projects as a thing to do as a business or just for fun. See case study.

Strategy 4. Extended Interaction Plans

We can space out the content of the workshop, going deeper more slowly. We can sketch out a multi-week program plan or another workshop model that is not just a 1- or 2-hour engagement (as is typical of PLIX activities). We can also provide more support on the prompt level. We may also remix PLIX activities or mash two together to create new-to-us programming.

  • Challenge/opportunity: Isolation leads to hunger for content / high engagement
  • As described by a rural librarian: In small town libraries often provide the only informal education for many miles. They need frequently changing, rich STEM content. Rural librarians may overestimate the technical knowhow they need to provide such programs.

Strategy 5. Using Supplies That Are Available
Let’s make sure at least one prompt is viable with only common household items. We’ll use tools and materials that patrons have at home too, so they could do it again if they want to!

  • Challenge: Rural project supply shopping
  • As described by a rural librarian: Small stores in a small town don’t typically stock supplies, not even craft materials!

Even though I work what might be considered the ‘opposite’ of a rural library (public library in NYC), I find a lot of common ground with these challenges and opportunities, although some of that is due to pandemic conditions.

I particularly identify with the way that the pandemic has affected staff count and patron flow through. Especially with omicron outbreaks, our staff has been bare bones, meaning that almost all programming happens while on desk. Additionally, folks are coming in less ‘en masse’, like our pre-pandemic afterschool crowd. Now we get families passing through while shopping etc, at somewhat irregular times and more spread out throughout the day that usual. We’ve also halted all in-person programming through Jan. So, Take Home Kits have been a huge boon for us, for everything from Arts and Crafts to STEAM to Storytime in a bag. But the Drop In programming idea is also really interesting to consider, and I think it would work well for our patronage at the moment.

Ideally, I enjoy the more hands on model where we get full interaction, but even pre-pandemic that’s not always possible, and its been interesting to flesh out new methods of delivering programming. I’ll be interested to see how much of this model remains when we go back to in-person programming.

I also think the idea of Locally Relevant Framework is really important for our community, but maybe for different reasons. NYPL is a huge system with a ton of branches, but for me I enjoy exploring how the microcosm of our branch here in Chinatown can be a unique space in it’s own right. We want to have opportunities for everyone in the city, but also establish a unique and dedicated connection to the communities living in our immediate area, be that through cultural events or promoting local pride.

Okay, long rant over, thanks for the insight! Looking forward to more posts from the Rural and Tribal Library Toolkit!


Not a long rant! This is a very helpful insight.

I support your observations @aaffinito Alessandra. In Long Beach we have 12 separate little branches with their own communities, interests and capacities. It kind of surprised me when I first learned that, as a new library assistant. I had always thought of the library as one big system, as it is technically structured.
Thinking of ways to newly meet our patron needs has highlighted those characteristics. I think this examination is a kind of organizational self-awareness that will be constructive for us in planning for the future. That kind of flexibility and adaptability will enable us move forward in effective ways as we, hopefully, grow out of pandemic conditions. This global event has forced us to examine our governments, ourselves, and our communities in the light of equity. I am hopeful that positive change will eventually be the product of this societal metamorphosis.
And hey, it will all be more fun if we are sharing cool PLIX activities with patrons, and welcoming new patrons!