For those who don’t have transportation to get to a library, bookmobiles and other traveling library services bring books and resources directly to those who need them.
As the Cobb County Public Library’s bookmobile came to its weekly stop at a local church, a four-year-old boy with his mom jumped excitedly up the stairs, eager to see if the librarians had found a new dinosaur or shark book for him to borrow.
“They are always here. Even if there is bad weather, the boy’s mom will come to pick out books for him,” said Mary Wood, community engagement manager at Cobb County Public Library. “During these visits, they received their first library card. The bookmobile enabled us to share the power of reading, literally bringing the library closer to this little guy.”
For those who don’t have transportation to get to a library, bookmobiles and other traveling library services bring books and resources directly to communities.
There are 10 bookmobiles across Georgia’s public library systems: Cobb, Forsyth, Piedmont, Middle Georgia Regional, Bartram Trail, Moultrie-Colquitt County, Chattahoochee Valley, Conyers-Rockdale, Southwest Georgia Regional, and Gwinnett libraries offer mobile service.
Additionally, more than 20 public libraries have other types of mobile outreach, such as a van or even a bicycle that travels to community events, day cares, senior centers, and more.
These services have become even more important during the COVID-19 pandemic, when people began working and attending school remotely. While all public libraries in Georgia provide free high speed Wi-Fi access in their parking lots, many people who lack internet access also lack a way to get to the library.
Mobile outreach now increasingly includes ways to bring the library’s free internet into communities.
For example, the Chattahoochee Valley Libraries’ bookmobile provides internet for local nonprofits when requested, including one group that needed a safe, outdoor space for their participants to access the internet and power. The bookmobile also spends four hours a day at four regular weekly stops in areas with a high concentration of families without internet access.
Forsyth County Public Library launched its bookmobile in November. It includes a wide collection of books, an interactive screen on the exterior of the vehicle for programming, and internet access. With nearly 250 square miles to cover in the county of over 236,000 residents, demand for the bookmobile services is expected to be high. The library worked with local organizations to determine places that are underserved by library branches, as well as areas where transportation options are limited.
“Many of the areas we visit are not only in need of wireless access, but also access to a computer and printer,” said Sarah Reynolds, outreach manager at Forsyth County Public Library. “We have two patron laptops on board to help bridge this gap. Recently, I worked with a senior citizen to re-up her food stamp benefit using the bookmobile. Our services are very needed.”
Forsyth Library has found that their most successful recent visits have been to lower income housing developments that have lots of children. Many residents are Spanish speakers, and the library’s bilingual staff member has made a big difference in providing quality library services to parents and their children’s reading adventures.
COVID-19 has both amplified the need for these services and also made changes necessary in the way bookmobiles operate. In Forsyth, masks are required, and patrons are given a limited amount of time on board to ensure safety for themselves and for library staff.
Cobb County Public Library modified its bookmobile strategy due to COVID-19 in several ways. The library now partners with a local drive-through food distribution site to give out 1,100 craft kits to families each month. They work with two middle schools in high-needs areas to connect children to books and build home libraries for school breaks. They also host bookmobile pop-up in the park events where families attend an in-person storytime and check out books.
“We are responding to the changing needs of Cobb County residents to support learning and literacy in meaningful ways,” said Mary Wood.
The Piedmont Regional Library System launched its new outreach vehicle in November 2020. Their Pop-up Rolling Library (PuRL) visits farmers markets, day cares, community events, and senior centers across three counties.
“COVID-19 hit just as we were getting PuRL,” said Alicia King, community engagement and office administration coordinator at Piedmont Regional Library System. “As our communities are opening up, and safety standards have been established, PuRL is helping each library reach beyond their four walls to engage the whole community and promote all that the library offers.”
One of PuRL’s senior center patrons said that they could no longer travel to their local library.
“If it wasn’t for the library bringing its large print collection and sharing about low vision accessibility services, I would have had to give up my lifelong love of reading,” she said. “I love the days they come to our center!”
In 2020, Middle Georgia Regional Library launched both a bookmobile and a book bike that travels by request into the community for events and festivals. It is the third bike of its kind in Georgia (the others are at Fulton County and Thomas County public libraries).
Both vehicles serve Middle Georgia’s Library Without Walls mobile branch (Library WoW), which has brought library services to the community since 2017 and can be requested through the library’s website.
Library WoW provides both English and Spanish services, and it is especially focused on populations who may have difficulty accessing the library in a traditional way, such as senior citizens, the homeless, those who have been incarcerated, and those who might not be comfortable accessing traditional libraries.
“Georgia’s public libraries have long been leaders in developing innovative ways to serve their communities,” said State Librarian Julie Walker. “It’s no surprise to see them respond quickly to COVID-19 to bring mobile literacy resources, internet, and more to those in need.”