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


Look How Far We Have Come in the 21st Century!

By Jan Meadows, Mobile Library Services Coordinator

My fellow outreach partners: Honk your horns, reach over your shoulder and pat your back and then celebrate!  We have come a long way in a short while!  We are so busy reaching out and driving the byways that we seldom take time to review the miles behind us.  Those miles are littered with accomplishments, large and small. They were attained person by person, library by library, and organization by organization.

In June of 2002, OLOS (Office of Literacy and Outreach) presented a Pre-Conference at ALA Annual, “Adult Literacy and Outreach in Libraries: Different Voices, Common Quest”.  This conference truly inspired me and all of those in attendance.  I especially remember two of the speakers. John Kretzmann, author of Building Communities From The Inside Out:  A Path Toward Finding and Mobilizing a Community’s Assets, shared his concept of finding the “gifts” that communities we serve have to offer our libraries instead of just focusing on what libraries have to offer them. (A Mariachi Band, art from a community center class, etc.) His message has stuck with me to this very day. Outreach can be a two way street where everyone benefits, your library and your target audience.  Sandra Rios Balderrama, Director of the ALA Office for Diversity (at that time), also gave a moving talk, telling outreach staff to walk tall and be proud of their service.  (I had tears in my eyes by the end of her speech!)  Every speaker at this conference enlivened and delighted their audience.  This was also the first time I met Satia Marshall Orange, Director of OLOS, and her staff.  What a resource they are for all of us in the outreach field! I left the conference feeling so exhilarated and motivated!

In my mind, this preconference, along with the National Bookmobile conferences of the 1990s, was the impetus for bookmobile/outreach staff to really get involved on a national level.  Each year since 2002, we have grown in visibility.  These are just a few of the ALA/OLOS programs that followed that preconference:

  • “To Bookmobile or Not: A Management and Community Decision”
  • "Urban Bookmobiles:  Highlights of Several Bookmobile Services in the Urban Setting”
  • “Bookmobile Connectivity”
  • “Outreach 101”
  • “Equity of Choice”
  • “Reach Outside the Box”
  • “Stellar Senior Outreach”

Each year, the programs had better attendance and by the 2004 programs the rooms assigned were not big enough and people spilled out into the hall, still listening to the programs even though they could not get inside.

We became so visible in fact that the ALA Bookmobile Sub Committee was formed in 2006 to keep the momentum going.  “Bookmobile Sunday” and “The Parade of Bookmobiles”, which are now expected features at each ALA Annual Conferences, were initiated by this vivacious group.  And (this is extremely exciting to us longtime bookmobilers!) in April 2010, Wednesday of National Library Week, will be National Bookmobile Day!  AWESOME!!

The previously mentioned, National Bookmobile Conference, morphed into the Great American Bookmobile Conference under the undying leadership and energy of John Philip (the original Mr. Bookmobile!) and Dr. Bernie Vavrek of Clarion University (PA).  Unless you are very new to outreach services you know that these two gentlemen were tireless in promoting bookmobile and outreach services and put their blood, sweat and tears into keeping the conference alive so we all had a place to call home.  They also started a listserv (now mailman@abos-outreach.org) where staff from all over the world could come to find answers and camaraderie, without having to travel anywhere!  There is now a second listserv via ALA  bookmobiles@ala.org . Any of you who have been around for at least 15 years know that “back in the day” we would have died and gone to bookmobile heaven had we had these two advantages!

The Great American Bookmobile Conference continued to grow and in 2004 it spawned the Association of Bookmobile and Outreach Services (ABOS) which continues to flourish.  2008 was an absolute banner year for bookmobile and outreach services because ABOS became an affiliate of ALA!  Now the vast knowledge and resources of both associations are available to assist all bookmobile staff as well as their many collaborators in outreach.

But, that’s not all!  Two new books (so far!) appeared in this 21st century that provide innovative ideas and outstanding guidance for those in bookmobile and outreach services.  The first, From Outreach to Equity  Innovative Models of library Policy and Practice, was published by ALA in 2004.  The theme of this tome is how to move traditional outreach services beyond just serving the underserved and forward towards providing equity of access via equitable service delivery.  A wealth of information at your fingertips!

The second book, debuting mid 2009, is titled On the Road With Outreach.  This volume will walk you through all types of library outreach services, covering the how-to basics of starting up, running and managing the programs, as well as, marketing, program evaluation and advocacy. This is a must for new comers as well as long time staff in the outreach field.

It is our good fortune in the 21st century to have so many well known experts available for our learning experience.  And we are going to make these gurus even more accessible to each and every one of you!  Those of you who have read this column since 2003 know that it has only had several new columns a year.  Well that is about to change!  Each month there will be a column written by a guest columnist, each one highly respected in their field.  Here is the lineup for the rest of 2009:

  • July: Joyce Voss, Community Services Manager, Arlington Heights Memorial Library in Arlington Heights, Illinois
  • August: Kathryn Totten,Manager of Outreach Services and Thornton Branch,Rangeview Library District in Thornton, Colorado
  • September:  Michael Swendrowski, Chairman, ALA Bookmobile Subcommittee & President, SPECIALTY VEHICLE SERVICES, LLC in Muskego, Wisconsin
  • October: Kathy Mayo, Outreach Services Manager,Lee County Library System in Estero, Florida
  • November: Cindy McFadden,Outreach Services Coordinator, Arapahoe Library District in Centennial, Colorado
  • December: Ian Stringer,Editor, IFLA Public Library Section Newsletter,Editor, “Service Point” UK Mobile Library Journal in Selby, North Yorkshire, UK

So remember to tune in each month for new, interesting, educational and fun information to help you serve your patrons, your library and your community.  I am excited about this venture and look forward to reading right along with you!  I hope to continue to stop by every once in a while in the future as a contributor also.  I have loved doing this column for the past eight years and have made so many new friends and contacts via this space.  I hope you will continue to keep in touch with me jmeadows@ppld.org and with all the new columnists you will meet.

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