Associated Press
Lauren Peters works at a small rural public library in Hansen, Idaho. Rural libraries appear to still be thriving.

TWIN FALLS, Idaho — Bibliophiles who live in small towns like Carey and Fairfield deserve access to libraries, too.

But what does it take to keep those buildings open?

Rural Idaho libraries face unique challenges, like serving limited patronages that are spread over large areas and operating on tiny budgets. But because they're used to hardships, many are weathering the poor economy well.

It helps that most aren't dependent on cities for their budgets. Many rural public libraries, like those in Hansen and Fairfield, are funded by property taxing districts.

It's a nice system, said Kevin Tomlinson of the Idaho Library Association. Though the budgets are small, libraries funded by taxing districts don't have to worry about cities cutting library budgets to fund other needs when times are tough.

There are downsides, of course. Those small budgets and a limited number of patrons often force rural libraries to keep limited hours. Oakley's public library is open afternoons on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays, and the Hansen library is open Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays.

"We try to be open more hours and it doesn't work," said Oakley librarian Pamelia Jenks. It's expensive to keep the building open and the lights on, even if no one shows up.

And though they're used to small budgets, things are getting more costly. Electricity bills are rising, and books are spendy. Oakley's library recently had to replace its furnace, and though it had enough money, the expenditure hurt.

Public libraries find other revenue sources, such as grants for computers and donations for books. Still, finding the time to go after that funding can be difficult, said Mary Bowman, director of the Little Wood River library district. While big libraries have employees designated to order books, shelve items, write grant proposals and organize programs, small libraries have one or two people to do all that — plus vacuum and dust.

"The smaller the library, the more tasks you have to do," Bowman said. For a while, Bowman was the only employee at the library, which serves 800 Blaine County residents. She just hired a second employee, which has been a huge relief, she said.

The economy doesn't help matters, but they're handling it, Bowman said.

"We just carry on like we always have," she said. "We're a small library and we're a poor library and we remain so."