The information gap between rural and urban areas became a growing concern to rural citizens during the farm crisis of the mid-1980s. Local officials and community leaders expressed to their congressional representatives their fear that this gap would continue to expand, and rural areas would not have ready access to the information resources necessary to help stimulate their depressed economies unless Congress addressed the problem. Therefore, in April 1987 Congress approached the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to propose that it establish a rural assistance information clearinghouse. The USDA readily agreed, and the result was the creation of the Rural Information Center (RIC) as a nationwide information provider to rural officials and communities. This article focuses on RIC's services, information requests, and partnerships.
So, while keeping the farmer ever in mind, the "people's department" must now turn its attention to the farmers' neighbors -- to Main Street, U.S.A.; those neighbors that buy the farmers' products and sell him most of the materials needed to produce them. Their financial health is influenced by the farmers' economic well-being. So all of the help we have been giving to farmers is also important to rural communities, generally.GRASSROOTS AND CONGRESSIONAL MANDATE
Farming is the dominant economic activity in many parts of rural America, and we want to continue to nurse it back to health. However, all parties with an interest in the future of rural America have to look at strategies that will diversify the rural economy. Planning officials at all levels of government, plus private industry, must look for economic activities that fit in the rural community...(pp.2-3).
All interested parties need to look at the basic elements that make a rural society work and at alternative means of providing these elements: the public facilities such as water systems, the availability of venture capital, education, transportation and healthcare....
The most important role will be that of the people -- making their decisions, allocating their resources, using their own ingenuity and setting their own horizons. The Federal Government will be an active and willing associate, working with the people and their local institutions, both public and private. (H. R. 2026, 100th Cong. 1st Sess. (1987))
provide and distribute information and data to any industry, organization, or Federal, State, or local government entity, on request, about Federal, State, and local programs and services, and programs and services operated by private nonprofit organizations or institutions, under which individuals residing in, or organizations and State and local government entities operating in, a rural area...may be eligible for any kind of assistance, including, but not limited to, job training, education, health care, economic development assistance, and emotional and financial counseling. (H. R. 2026, 1987, Title II, 202[b])
an information clearinghouse will be established at the National Agricultural Library with an 800 telephone number. Rural community officials will be able to get up-to-date information about Federal programs available to them in a single phone call and will be referred to the appropriate agency for follow-up. (p. 9)
RURAL INFORMATION: WHO NEEDS WHAT?Request Volume
|•||Health care professionals, state and local health offices, organizations, etc.||34%|
|•||Universities and other educational institutions||8%|
|•||State and county extension service||6%|
|•||Federal officials (non-USDA)||2%|
|•||Public interest groups||1%|
Community Development. In addition to general economic development information, local officials and communities also contact the Rural Information Center for case studies, project models, feasibility studies, strategic planning documents, proposal and grant writing guidelines, and funding program sources. Community officials must manage existing resources and plan new activities to stimulate their economies and create and retain jobs. Representative RIC requestors include:
Small Business Development. Local communities seek information and funding sources on attracting, locating, expanding, and retaining new businesses and industries. They also request information on business licensing, industrial regulations, and other legislation affecting business and industry. Local entrepreneurs seek funding sources and information on various economic aspects, such as business start-ups and incubators, planning guidelines, product research, and patent information. Representative Rural Information Center requestors include:
Tourism Development. Many rural communities request information on tourism promotion ideas to attract visitors and help stimulate the local economy. Some communities are lucky enough to already have scenic natural resources and historic areas to attract tourists but may need funding sources and promotion information. Less fortunate communities may need information on developing the actual tourist attraction whether it be a museum, tourist train, amusement park, or festival. Representative RIC requestors include:
Agribusiness. Businesses, industries, and entrepreneurs seek information on value-added products and on processing agricultural and natural resource commodities. Farmers also seek information varying from farm management to sources of income diversification such as alternative crops and livestock to establishing a local cooperative or farmer's market. Representative Rural Information Center requestors include:
Health. The Rural Information Center receives requests in most areas of health, including the status of specific categories of rural citizens--infants, Native Americans, seniors, African Americans, Hispanics, etc. It also receives requests on the recruitment and retention of health personnel and on the application of telecommunications and hospital networks. Other requests concern information on a variety of topics such as health education, child care, agricultural safety and health, mental health, substance abuse, emergency medical service, and health care facilities. The Rural Information Center Health Service does not handle clinical medical questions and refers these to the National Library of Medicine or the appropriate health information clearinghouse. Representative requestors include:
Education. Rural communities want the same educational opportunities for their children and citizens as are available in urban areas. They seek information about providing public school programs that lower the high school dropout rate and reduce youth alcohol and drug abuse, about obtaining funds to purchase computers for the classroom, about entering into partnerships with local businesses to provide youth training opportunities, and about using new telecommunication technology to enhance the curriculum of public schools and continuing education programs through distance education. Representative requestors include:
Environment. Rural officials seek information on various environmental issues--many of which have both an environmental and economic impact on their community. They need information on legislation, environmental regulations and compliance, natural resource management, wildlife management, water quality issues, recycling programs, and solid and hazardous waste disposal, to list a few. Representative requestors include:
Government. Rural officials find themselves involved in strategic planning and budget management processes in an effort to stretch their communities' resources further. They look for creative ways to provide the most basic community services, such as police and fire protection, public utilities, community programs, and facilities. Representative requestors include:
Housing. Small communities, like their urban counterparts, face the often costly problem of providing affordable public housing for low-income citizens. As more and more elderly move to rural areas, local governments must also provide housing to meet the special needs of this as well as other special populations. Representative requestors include:
Labor. Rural communities may face a struggling local economy, a corresponding high unemployment rate, and the continual problem of generating new jobs--some of which may require retraining for the local unemployed. Rural areas also encounter the economic impact of industrial plant relocations, dislocated workers, and military base closures. Representative requestors include:
Social Issues. Rural communities, like their urban counterparts, are constantly encountering changing and increasing social needs for their citizens. More recent social issues, such as how to deal with rising poverty and homelessness, youth alcohol and drug abuse, child abuse, battered women, and elderly care and services require new and often costly programs. These new services place additional financial stress on small communities that usually have a correspondingly small tax base. Representative requestors include:
Transportation. Elements that characterize many rural areas--vast space and distance, isolation, harsh weather conditions, natural resource barriers--generate numerous problems for local officials trying to meet the transportation needs of their citizens. Representative requestors include:
CONGRESS AND PARTNERS STRENGTHEN RICState Partners
Food, Agriculture, Conservation, and Trade Act of 1990, Pub. L. No. 101-624, 104 Stat. (1991).
Frank, R., & John, P. L. (1989). The Rural Information Center. Wilson Library Bulletin, 63(9), 40-43.
H. R. 2026, 100th Cong., 1st Sess. §202(b) (1987).
Hines, F. O. (1994). Telecommunications and its impact on rural America (NADO Research Foundation White Paper). Washington, DC: National Association of Development Organizations Research Foundation.
John, P. L. . (1994). The Rural Information Center: Federal and state cooperation expands information access. Rural Libraries, 14(2), 37-48.
Lyng, R. E., & Vautour, R. R. (1988). On the move: A report on rural economic development in America. Washington, DC: USGPO.
Lyng, R. E., & Vautour, R. R. (1989). Signs of progress: A report on rural America's revitalization efforts. Washington, DC: USGPO.
Madigan, E. R., & Vautour, R. R. (1991). Putting the pieces together: Annual rural development strategy report. Washington, DC: USGPO.
Myers, P. C. (1987). Testimony of Peter C. Myers, Deputy Secretary, U.S. Department of Agriculture, before the Conservation, Credit and Rural Development Subcommittee, House Agriculture Committee, May 19, 1987. Unpublished manuscript, U. S. Department of Agriculture.
Nakazawa, A. T., & John, P. L. (1993). The Rural Information Center: A resource for economic development. Economic Development Review: The Journal for the Economic Development Practitioner, 11 (2) 62-65.
President's Council on Rural America. (1992). Revitalizing rural America through collaboration: A report to the President. Washington, DC: President's Council on Rural America.
President's Economic Policy Council. Working Group on Rural Development. (1990). Rural economic development for the 90's: A Presidential initiative: The findings and recommendations of the Economic Policy Council Working Group on Rural Development. Washington, DC: President's Economic Policy Council.
Rural Business Link Promotion Act of 1989, S. 1030, 101st Cong., 1st Sess. (1989).
Rural Partnerships Act of 1989. S. 1036, 101st Cong., 1st Sess. (1989).
Rural Revitalization Task Force. (1989a). A hard look at USDA's rural development programs: The report of the Rural Revitalization Task Force to the Secretary of Agriculture. Washington, DC: USGPO.
Rural Revitalization Task Force. (1989b). Recommendations of the Revitalization Task Force to the Secretary of Agriculture. Washington, DC: USGPO.
U. S. Congress. Office of Technology Assessment. (1991). Rural America at the crossroads: Networking for the future. Washington, DC: USGPO.
Vautour, R. R. (1987). Rural development strategy update: Fiscal years 1986-87-88. Unpublished manuscript. U.S. Department of Agriculture, Under Secretary Small Community and Rural Development.
Patricia LaCaille John is Coordinator of the Rural Information Center, National Agricultural Library, Beltsville, Maryland. She is a current member of both the National Rural Development Council and ALA's Rural Library Services Committee. She is the current chair of both the ALA Federal Librarians Roundtable Personnel Committee and the Federal Library and Information Center Committee Personnel Working Group. Ms. John received an M.L. from the University of Washington and an M.A. from George Washington University.