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. 


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