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


Affiliate Notes: ABOS president reflects on the value of library outreach

Martha Buckner

Martha A. Buckner, President
Association of Bookmobile and Outreach Services

For the past decade I have been actively involved in the Association of Bookmobile and Outreach Services (ABOS), an affiliate of ALA.  In that time, I have met hundreds of outreach enthusiasts, but I’ve never met two that “do outreach” the same way! 

Bookmobile service in the United States dates back to 1905 when the first horse-drawn library book wagon was introduced in Hagerstown, Maryland. However, library outreach service was already being offered by libraries that placed deposits of books in post offices, schools, and general stores.

Perhaps the most extreme case of mobile library outreach service was the Pack Horse Library Project of 1935.  Women riding horses or mules traveled through remote areas of Eastern Kentucky delivering library materials to homes and schools.  (Makes my modern bookmobile seem positively luxurious in comparison!)

In 21st century America, library outreach can mean serving the disenfranchised, the under-served, the physically and mentally disabled, and the incarcerated.  Libraries offer outreach service to persons physically distanced from the library, persons who lack access to transportation, and persons who are homebound.

Ashland PL's Bookmobile

Some libraries do outreach with modern coach-style bookmobiles.  Other libraries use box trucks or vans.  And some librarians use their own personal vehicle to deliver library service to members of their community who are unable to visit the brick-and-mortar library.  Mobile libraries offer more than just books - they provide:

  • Storytimes for preschool children.
  • A safe place to for kids who may not have any safe spaces in their lives. 
  • An air-conditioned respite on a scorching hot day.
  • A librarian with a sympathetic ear who will listen to the heartache and disappointment voiced by a single parent, raising a grandchild and caring for an elderly parent at the same time.

But outreach can mean much more than the delivery of books and other materials.  Outreach by definition means “the act of extending services, benefits, etc., to a wider section of the population.”  Libraries can reach out to persons who come to the building by providing: 

  • Programs offered in a language other than English.
  • A stop on the transit bus line.
  • A hitching rail for a horse and buggy.
  • A haven for the homeless who must leave shelters during the day.
  • Resume and job-search skills for the newly unemployed.
  • Those who are vulnerable, on the fringes of society and may have few places to turn to. 

Like other library services, library outreach has its challenges of budget restraints and the escalating cost of resources.  Outreach is also challenged with getting the word out to the very people they want to reach. 

Those of us working in outreach do have a few things in common.  We all work tirelessly to find new people to reach, new ways to reach them, and new services to offer them when we do! 

Join us on April 17 as we celebrate outreach services and the men and women who provide them every day on National Bookmobile Day! 



Martha Buckner is the Supervisor for Bookmobile and Outreach at the Ashland Public Library in Ashland, Ohio. 



New 2013 National Bookmobile Day Resources Available!

By John L. Amundsen, ALA Office for Literacy and Outreach Services

The fourth annual celebration of National Bookmobile Day is just around the corner, on Wednesday, April 17, 2013 – prompting libraries nationwide to begin their preparations!

ALA’s Office for Literacy and Outreach Services, the Association of Bookmobile and Outreach Services (ABOS) and the Association for Rural & Small Libraries (ARSL) collaborate every year to assemble free downloadable and customizable resources to aid libraries as they plan their National Bookmobile Day activities and events.

We’d like to share with you some ways that you can make the most out of the free National Bookmobile Day resources available at www.ala.org/bookmobiles. This post will be the first in a weekly series that explains all of these resources and highlights notable examples of how they’ve been used in the past. This week, we’ll focus on the press release, proclamation, and letter-to-the-editor templates.

Marketing your NBD Events

As mentioned above, we've developed templates for libraries to issue a press release, letter-to-the-editor, and proclamation. All three of these documents are ready-made, meaning all you need to do is to add information about designated contact, library name, quote from local dignitary/library representative/etc., and any additional information you wish to include.

Before you move forward, you should ask yourself these questions:

  • Does your library have a PR department or designated publicity staffer?
  • Does your library have an established procedure for approving news items?
  • Do you have a designated spokesperson who can answer questions about the event, the bookmobile, and the library?
  • What local media outlets do you want to target?

Once you’ve answered these questions, you can move forward and develop an outreach plan which will outline deadlines and tactics.

Press Release Template – A press release is one of the basic tools you can use to reach out to local media and communicate news from your library. Once completed, the National Bookmobile Day release template is ready to be disseminated to local media outlets as news items.
In the event that your library system already has a PR department or designated publicity staffer, you can submit your release with them and take advantage of any pre-existing relationships that the department or staffer already has with the local media. Be sure that the department or staffer and spokesperson have talking points and information about the event – which can be downloaded at www.ala.org/bookmobiles.

Here are some examples of placed press release templates from previous NBD celebrations:

If your library lacks a PR department or designated staffer, you can do a quick scan of what outlets are there in your community. Once you’ve identified your local news outlets, look up the contact information for either the city or news desks and call the editor(s) and call them, introducing yourself as a representative of the library, apprising them of your library, your bookmobile, and the upcoming National Bookmobile Day festivities in your town. Building such relationships with local media can prove to be very valuable down the road.

Letter-to-the-Editor Template -  We’ve prepared a National Bookmobile Day Op-ed template for libraries to submit on behalf of a library or community leader that speaks to the occasion. Much like the press release template, the Op-ed template only needs designated contact information, an author to attribute it to, and any other information that you wish to include.

The procedures for placing an op-ed vary from outlet to outlet; you can either consult with your PR department or staffer if you have one, or contact the outlet directly – either through the city or news desk – and ask for information on submitting an op-ed article.

Proclamation Template - Want to make your National Bookmobile Day celebrations truly official? Consider approaching your local government officials and request that they proclaim National Bookmobile Day! We’ve developed a proclamation template which is ready to download at www.ala.org/bookmboiles.

Here are some examples of proclamations from past NBD events:

Additional Publicity Resources

Advocacy University


Advocacy Clearinghouse – Media & Messaging


Library Advocate’s Handbook


ALA Communications Handbook for Libraries


Share your Story!
Be sure to share your National Bookmobile Day stories, including programming ideas, media placements, and anything else of interest – either on the ABOS list, through the National Bookmobile Day Facebook fan page, Twitter (@bookmobileday, hashtag: #NBD2013), and the National Bookmobile Day Wiki on www.ala.org/bookmobiles.

Questions? Comments? Concerns? For assistance, please contact the ALA Office for Literacy and Outreach Services at 1-800-545-2433, ext. 4294 between 9:00am and 5:00pm Central Time, or email olos@ala.org.