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Bookmobiles and the ALA

By Michael Swendrowski, President - Specialty Vehicle Services, LLC., Chairman - ALA Subcommittee on Bookmobiles

As I write this column today, I recall sitting at a head table in New Orleans waiting to present a segment at the first ever bookmobile program at ALA Annual.  Although only 20 people attended that early Sunday morning in 2006, it would prove to be the start of something good.

You see, I was one of only a handful of people on the new ALA Subcommittee on Bookmobiles, expertly assembled by Satia Marshall Orange under the Office of Literacy and Outreach Services (OLOS).  As a new group, we struggled a little at first, but were steadfastly committed to drawing well deserved attention to very important, but sometimes under recognized (and underfunded) bookmobile services nationwide.

Today, the Subcommittee has over 20 members strong and expertly represents all aspects of bookmobile services.  The Subcommittee’s content filled Mobile Services program has been coupled with a yearly Parade of Bookmobiles to anchor a now well recognized annual “Bookmobile Sunday”.  The 2009 program featured authors Sara Paretsky (www.saraparetsky.com) and Theresa Schwegel (www.theresaschwegel.com), and the 2010 Mobile Services program in Washington D.C. will feature a keynote presentation by Ralph Eubanks (http://wralpheubanks.com/), author and Director of Publishing at the Library of Congress, about how important the bookmobile was in shaping his childhood and career.  The 2009 Parade of Bookmobiles featured a record 13 vehicles and was covered by national media and film crews (http://www.ala.org/ala/aboutala/offices/olos/bookmobiles/bookmobileparade.cfm), and is sure to be even better in D.C.    I strongly encourage you to make the Sunday of each year’s conference part of your yearly bookmobile “must attends”!

In addition to Bookmobile Sunday, the Subcommittee works closely with the Association of Bookmobile and Outreach Services (ABOS), as an ALA Affiliate, on relative projects to help improve the continually viable work of “bookmobilers” nationwide.   I would like to share with you just some of these projects.

The Subcommittee submitted a proposal and was approved by the ALA Public Awareness Committee to designate Wednesday of National Library Week as National Bookmobile Day, starting on Wednesday, April 14, 2010.

Celebrating the Bookmobile during National Library Week 2010 will accomplish three key goals:

  1. Demonstrate to the profession, friends and trustees that bookmobile services are a core component of library service delivery
  2. Demonstrate to the local community that bookmobiles are vital and that use growing, making a case for continued support and funding
  3. Demonstrate through the national media that bookmobiles are modern, changing and dynamic mobile information centers for the 21st century

Initiatives within ALA around National Bookmobile Day will be coordinated by the Subcommittee on Bookmobiles of the OLOS Advisory Committee and OLOS Staff acting as liaison to the committee, in conjunction with the Public Awareness Committee’s National Library Week Committee.  Media outreach services will be provided by the Public Information Office.  The Day will be prominently featured through ILoveLibraries.org and other ALA social media for the public.

A taskforce has been assembled from members of the ALA Subcommittee on Bookmobiles, the Association of Bookmobile and Outreach Services (ABOS), and the Association of Rural and Small Libraries (ARSL) to develop downloadable toolkits to support programming, activities, professional education, advocacy and media outreach goals for National Bookmobile Day.  Please visit http://www.ala.org/ala/newspresscenter/news/pressreleases2009/april2009/olosbookmobile.cfm for more information about National Bookmobile Day, or www.ala.org/nlw to learn more about National Library Week.

The Subcommittee and ABOS are also supporting a project named “Behind the Wheel of a Bookmobile”, which was officially launched in July, 2009.  “Behind the Wheel” is a multi-media and documentary project by author and producer Tom Corwin that follows a classic bookmobile across country on back roads with acclaimed authors taking turns at the wheel.  At each stop the bookmobile’s doors will open inviting the public in to take their choice of digital and analog titles in exchange for interviews about books that have changed their lives.  The highlights of the journey will be distributed in a literacy outreach campaign through the web and culminate in a documentary film.  “Books influence our lives in ways too often untold,” says Corwin.  “Our trip is designed to tell some of those stories while our back roads route connects the project to America’s literary history.”  Visit the official website at http://www.bookmobiletravels.com for updates and learn how you can be a part of this high profile project.

The Handbook for Mobile Services Staff has been compiled and is available for download at http://www.ala.org/ala/aboutala/offices/olos/bookmobiles/bookmobilehdbk.pdf.  This document is frequently updated and is a great resource for bookmobile staff.

A “Bookmobiles Wiki” has been established at http://olos.ala.org/bookmobiles/index.php?title=Main_Page, and is a great portal for the latest news and bookmobile information.  Log in frequently learn more and maybe contribute your expertise!

Bookmobiles and direct-delivery outreach services are, and continue to be an integral, vital part of libraries around the country.  For over 100 years bookmobiles have served rural, urban, suburban and tribal areas, bringing access to information and life-long learning resources to all classes and communities.  Bookmobiles are a central part of library service, and the ALA, through its Subcommittee on Bookmobiles, is firmly committed to recognizing their contribution to public life with the goal to highlight their value and extend their reach.

--Michael Swendrowski is a 26 year veteran of the specialty vehicle industry with special love for bookmobiles.  He draws on his experience and technical knowhow to assist libraries in designing, specifying, and purchasing the perfect bookmobile for their unique needs.  Michael is an active member of the Association of Bookmobile and Outreach Services (ABOS), gives bookmobile related presentations nationwide, and currently serves as chairman of the ALA-OLOS Subcommittee on Bookmobiles.  He can be reached at  mswendrowski@vehiclesuccess.com or 262.679.9096 with questions about the ALA-OLOS Subcommittee on Bookmobiles.

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