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Rural Information Center Basics and Guide

The Rural Information Center (RIC), a service of the National Agricultural Library (NAL), assists rural communities by providing information and referral services to rural government officials, community organizations, libraries, businesses, and citizens working to maintain America's rural areas.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                       

Three farmers, each with a plow and two horses plow a field of unidentified grain by the shape of the land. Defined contoured fields and trees are in the background.

NAL Information and Referral Services

NAL staff provide information services to inquiries, including: identifying rural development literature on planning; funding sources; research on various topics; and other related issues.  Staff also refer users to organizations or experts who may be able to provide additional assistance.

Contact Us

For additional help in identifying rural information, please consult the following resources:

  • Just want to browse? Click the (+) icons to expand the menu sections in our site directory.
  • Funding for your rural project? (E.g. fire departments and housing resources), see our Guide to Funding Resources or visit Rural Resources for a list of our online guides.
  • Information about Sustainable Rural Communities? see our Sustainable Rural Communities landing page for community information, including emergency response and environmental justice resources.

**Please note that NAL does not provide funding.


What is Rural?

Ideas and definitions relating to the term "rural" are diverse. The federal government classifies areas and population for statistical, programming, and funding purposes. When applying for grants and funding, or while conducting research, one should refer to the rural definition provided by the awarding agency or organization to which application is being made.  The rural definition laid out by the U.S. Census Bureau is often the baseline for other definitions.

The Census Bureau defines "rural" as "...any population, housing, or territory NOT in an urban area".  Its definition of rural is closely tied to its urban definition. There are two types of urban areas: 

  • "Urbanized Areas" (i.e., population: N > 50,000) and "Urban Clusters" (i.e., population: 2,500 < N < 50,000).
  • "Non-metro" does not mean "rural."

For more information on terms, definitions, and concepts, visit the following: 


Rural Data and Statistics

  • U.S. Department of Agriculture
    • ​​Economic Research Service (ERS)
      • The Atlas of Rural and Small-Town America: Interactive map tool and data source which provides statistics on 5 broad categories and socioeconomic factors: demographic data on people and veterans; jobs; county classifications; and income.
      • Data for Rural Analysis: Data sets produced and maintained by ERS that are used by policymakers and researchers to identify rural and urban areas.
      • State Fact Sheets: Interactive map and data including state and county information.
  • National Center for Education Statistics: NCES revised their definitions for school locale types in 2006 after working with the Census Bureau to create a new classification system.
  • U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA)
  • U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs (VA)
    • ​​Rural Veterans: VA rural definitions, demographics, assistance and care.


IMAGE: Author Unknown, Undated. "Contour Plowing." Special Collections, USDA National Agricultural Library.  Accessed December 19, 2019

Revised and updated by Dr. Vanessa S Gordon (2022).  Original edition: 2006 by Patricia La Caille John. 


Still need help?

  • Ask a Question through our Ask a Question form.
  • National Agricultural Library Reference Services: 301-504-5755