Diversity & Outreach Columns ALA's Office for Diversity, Literacy and Outreach Services


The Birthing of a Bookmobile

By Jan Meadows, Mobile Library Services Coordinator, Pikes Peak (CO) Library District

I went to a new doctor the other day, which of course meant that I had to answer all sorts of questions about my medical history.  When we got to the question, "How many pregnancies have you had?” I wanted to say:  "Well, I had two children, but I have also birthed one lobby stop van, two bookmobiles and I have another bookmobile ready to deliver in two weeks."   But, a saner response came forth when I had a flash of the psychiatric evaluation the doc would probably recommend after that answer!   However, if you have been responsible for purchasing your library’s bookmobile or outreach vehicle, I am sure you can identify with the feeling.

You spend months and even years planning for that new mobile.  Just like parents, you spend a lot of time figuring the budget this way and that and coming up with ways to afford the addition to your “family” of mobile units.   Both of our new “babies” here at PPLD came to us as a result of some out of the box thinking about funding.  In my 21st Century Bookmobile column #13, I told you about our CMAQ grant which funded a major part of our new city mobile that is arriving on June 9th.  Our new Lobby Stop van, which arrived in February of this year, was also funded in part by a grant that was not a usual source for libraries.

In early 2007, The Colorado Trust announced a Healthy Aging Initiative grant aimed at funding assisted living facilities with special projects to improve the lives and health of 65+ seniors living in their facilities.  Our astute PPLD Foundation Executive Officer, Dolores Fowler, saw this grant announcement and quickly pulled together a team to discern how we could use this grant to serve our senior patrons.  The team had members from Adult Services, Branches and Outreach, the Senior Connection Committee and our Finance Office.  This team should be the “poster child” for the team concept!  In one short month we all pulled together and completed an application for this grant.  It was a long shot, we thought, but we have wanted to start a lobby stop service for at least 17 years, so we went for it!  One year to the day from our first team meeting, February 14, we celebrated the Grand Opening of the PPLD Lobby Stop Service.  Yes!  The Colorado Trust liked the innovative approach and awarded us a 4-year HAI grant for a total of $240,000 ($60,000 per year).

In the grant application we proposed that by bringing a 30 minute, interactive program, plus book carts filled with library materials for checkout, into 15 Assisted Living Centers within our Library District, we could improve the emotional well being of the residents, which in turn would improve their mental health.

The programs are relatively simple programs, designed to promote interaction and spark conversation and discussion among the residents.  We soon discovered that competition still reigns with the seniors we visit.  They compete with each other and with themselves to remember trivia facts, or identify the location of scenes in beautiful photographs.  One group was discussing and pondering a photograph for a while and then became quiet, so our staff asked “Do you want us to tell you?”  Several residents loudly said “No! We are still thinking!”  Amazingly, many of these folks have not really interacted with each other, but just let two of them discover, as a result of a trivia question, that they both lived in Kentucky or Texas at some point in their lives, and they are soon leaning across the table or off in a corner after a program, chatting up a storm.  One lady who insisted that she did not wish to talk with others in the facility, reluctantly agreed to just sit in on the program (but not take part!).  By the end, she was leaning over the back of her chair and conversing with the ladies behind her.

By bringing the books and other library materials into the residents we are enabling them to: continue reading for entertainment and education, learn new activities such as painting with water colors, enjoy movies and music, and once again be active library patrons.  Accessing a library branch, or even the bookmobile, is physically impossible for most of these seniors, so bringing the materials into their lobby puts happy smiles on many faces.   Soon after we started our visits, fellow residents started recommending books to each other and stopping other residents just passing by to tell them they should take a book.  It has been a thrilling experience for our staff to see this service grow right before our eyes, not unlike parents who are happy to see their babies grow and develop.

Conversely, just as there are rewarding experiences, you also learn it is often hard work being a “parent “.  The Colorado Trust has made the grant a learning experience for each of the grantees.  They have provided a Technical Assistant for each organization awarded a grant, as well as, an overall organizational assessment and two day trainings for such things as program evaluation.  While all of these aids are to help us with our grant program execution, evaluation and reporting, they are useful tools that can be applied to other projects within our departments and programs throughout the organization.  We have done work plans, evaluation plans, budget plans and outcome measurement worksheets, to name a few.  We meet regularly with our technical assistant, Dr. Jana Smith, who is so smart and organized that I am sure she is just shaking her head as she leaves a meeting with us.  Luckily, she also has a good sense of humor!  And, as my parents always said to me, hard work pays off.

Oops, I have digressed from the birthing process.  After you have the funding worked out for your new addition, you move on to research.  Just as you search for the best doctor to care for you and then your newborn baby, you need to find the best vendor for your particular needs in a vehicle.  You question everyone you know that has had a baby about their doctor and likewise, you question other outreach staff about their specialty vehicle builders.  Then you request in-depth information and conduct interviews with the vendors themselves.  You gather samples of other library’s specifications. You also learn what not to do because others have already made the mistake before you and are kind enough to share it with you.  Onward you march into the adventure of writing the perfect set of specifications for the vehicle you want and sending out your RFP.  After reviewing bids and making a vendor selection, you still have months of floor plan drawing manipulation, phone calls, emails and in person meetings. Then there are usually the unforeseen issues that pop up during production as well as production progress reports from your vendor.  There are also trips to see your vehicle being created; a very exciting part of the process!

Then, when all this planning and building is completed and that new vehicle drives up to your library, laughter abounds, tears of joy are shed and ohs and awes echo around the new kid on the block.  You are as smitten!!  All the work and ups and downs are suddenly so worth it.  Your bookmobile is born!  It is a glorious day.

Thanks for tuning in again here at 21st Century Bookmobiles and as always, I am happy to hear from you anytime at  jmeadows@ppld.org.

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Prison Librarianship: Frequently Asked Questions

By Glennor Shirley, Library Coordinator for the Maryland State Department of Education.

Each week I receive at least two emails from future and practicing librarians who ask questions on a variety of topics about prison libraries and prison librarianship. Many of the questions come from library school students who write that they are interested in becoming prison librarians.

The most frequently asked questions are: How do I become a prison librarian? Can the inmates use the Internet? What are the safety issues? What kinds of books inmates read?

I normally take some time to give detailed answers and if the individual is from Maryland, I invite them to tour one of the prison libraries in Maryland. A visit is more realistic as it gives the individual an opportunity to feel the gates closing behind them, to experience the daily ritual of getting in and out of an institution, and most importantly, they see and speak to inmates who are using the libraries.

It is the frequency of these questions that gave me the idea of compiling a list of Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) on my blog. Click here to see the FAQs.

Please feel free to send comments to me at gshirley@msde.state.md.us.

--Glennor Shirley is the Library Coordinator for the Maryland State Department of Education, Correctional Education Libraries.  Prior to that she has served as the Former Manager, Randallstown Branch of Baltimore County Library and East Columbia Branch, Howard County Library; as the Bookmobile Librarian, Jamaica Library Service; and as a Special Librarian for Jamaica Broadcasting Corporation. She blogs at http://prisonlibrarian.blogspot.com/.


The Year of the Bookmobile!

By Jan Meadows, Bookmobile Supervisor, Pikes Peak (CO) Library District

Somebody please tell me how time gets away so quickly!  I am sure part of the reason is that there is so much going on in the Bookmobile and Outreach field these days that it is hard to keep on top of it all.  But that is a good thing, right?!  It means you all are making a difference in the library world, as well as, in the world of the patrons.

In January 2007 I attended the awesome New Zealand Mobile Libraries Conference!  I have been trying to think of words to describe what a great conference it was and how beautiful New Zealand and its people are, but I keep coming up woefully short!

The conference was held in the middle of the gorgeous, green, North Island at the Wairakei Resort in Taupo.  Cathie Richards, Mobile Librarian, North Shore Libraries, and conference organizer, did not miss a single detail in preparing a well-rounded, informative and fun conference.  There were speakers from Australia, the United Kingdom, the United States and New Zealand.  There were also two attendees from Singapore. Topics covered all aspects of outreach services including: Occupational Health and Safety Guidelines for Mobile Services, How a Library-wide Floating Collection can work for Mobile Services, Services to the Aged and Housebound, Mobile Libraries Online, and 101 Things You Need to Know About Mobile Library Service and Keeping Bookmobiles Alive.  There were two very interesting and entertaining sessions: Mobile Libraries Around the World and the History of Mobile Libraries In New Zealand.  Lastly, there were two sessions regarding the Australian Innovations in Public Library Mobile Services and a report on a Study of Mobile Librarians and the issues of their employment.  Every session was excellent.

There is no way I can impart here, in this space, all the knowledge that the conference goers were able to gather.   I can say that I was so very impressed with the Australian and New Zealand bookmobiles (or Mobiles, as the say).  They are so innovative in their designs!  Some of the Australian mobile units have “pods” (what we would call pull-outs on RVs) which make them big as a building when they are all set up.  The NZ Mobiles on display at the conference were so open and airy feeling, even though they were the same width and length as our US bookmobiles. I couldn’t figure out how they did that.  Truly inspiring!  I also found it very interesting that they had done the study of mobile services and developed the OHS guidelines specific to mobile library service.  I learned something new from every speaker….now that is a good conference when you can say that!  Here is a link to the web site for the conference.  Take a peek!


The conference was not only informative and educational…it was fun.  Cathie arranged a Jet Boat ride down a beautiful river as one of the activities.  You haven’t lived until you have taken a 50 mph ride down a river and then have the driver do a 360-degree spin!  A hike through a thermal field followed that.
Another evening we had a wonderful dinner at a vineyard with actors portraying the “Fawlty Towers” cast (John Cleese was in the original show).  If you aren’t familiar with that TV show don’t feel alone, I had no clue what was going on for the first 20 minutes!  But it was a zany evening that I will never forget.  I can’t remember when I have laughed so long and so much.  It was a hoot!…and the dinner was fabulous.

Another smart thing Cathie arranged was for each session to be recorded on CD.  What a great service this was.  You were able to take the entire presentation home with you instead of hastily scribbled notes.  In fact, I told Cathie she should make a career out of conference organizing….she is a natural at it!  Thank you, Cathie, for inviting me to take part in this excellent conference and thanks to all the NZ folks for their generous hospitality.  I made some wonderful friends as a bonus!

Lastly, the really good news is that the Association of Bookmobile and Outreach Services conference in St. Louis, MO, October 3 – 5, 2007 will have three of the speakers from the New Zealand conference presenting programs.  How terrific is that!  Visit http://www.abos-outreach.org/annual_conference.htm for details.

But, before that conference happens, there is the ALA Conference in Washington, DC.  The ALA Bookmobile Sub Committee and the ALA Office for Literacy and Outreach have put together an exciting program to be held on Sunday, June 24, 2007 from 10:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m., titled “Mobile Outreach: Access at its Best”.  You really don’t want to miss this!  It includes a General Session with four dynamic library administrators sharing their experience with and commitment to mobile service, a Free Lunch generously sponsored by Matthews Specialty Vehicles of Greensboro, NC, and then, four practical workshops for you to choose from (Marketing, Collection Management, Risk Management and Vehicle Purchasing) all presented by experts in the field.

And as if that isn’t enough,  there will be a Bookmobile Rally on Tuesday, June 26th, showcasing mobile outreach to members of Congress!  And….the Diversity Fair is focused on Bookmobile Service this year.  Go to http://www.ala.org/cfapps/olos/dfform.html  to register and promote your mobile service.

Yes, people, it is the Year of the Bookmobile at ALA.  Join in and shine with your counterparts from across the nation!

See what I mean?  There is so much going on in our outreach  world!  Isn’t it marvelous?  I am just in awe of all that you do out there and I love to hear your individual stories.  Also, in my next column I would like to talk about Mobile Library Service vs. Bookmobiles. How do you feel about the movement to change the service name?   Please feel free to contact me at  jmeadows@ppld.org

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