Today’s Bookmobiles: How
With articles like, “This is Not Your Father’s Bookmobile,” (King & Shanks, 2000), and the rebranding of bookmobiles as the “InfoBUS” (King & Shanks, 2000), “Discovery Bus” (Gardner, 2009), and the “cybermobile” (Bashaw, 2010), it is clear that today’s bookmobiles have been going through a period of reinvention to ensure their services are responsive to the needs of the 21st century community. Indeed, there is a growing movement to keep America’s bookmobiles relevant and running. According to the ALA’s Office for Literacy and Outreach Services, there were 696 bookmobiles on America’s roads in 2011, down from 819 in 2006 (National Bookmobile Day 2015 – Bookmobiles at a Glance, 2015), and roughly 2,000 in the 1970s (Bashaw, 2010). To combat this downward trend libraries have been consulting professional guidelines for information on successful bookmobile management to assist them in integrating more of their essential services into the bookmobile, and in targeting specific populations in need of bookmobile services.
The growing standardization of bookmobile services has helped libraries plan and implement effective bookmobile outreach programs in their communities. The Association of Bookmobiles and Outreach Services (ABOS) published a series of Guidelines, last updated in 2008, with recommendations on bookmobile administration, public service, and vehicle maintenance. Among other recommendations, the Guidelines state that bookmobiles should be managed as another library branch, must be adequately funded and staffed, and that collection development needs to be congruent with community needs and the mission of the library as a whole (National Bookmobile Guidelines, 2008). The ALA has also sought to promote bookmobile services through an annual National Bookmobile Day, the sixth one of which will be celebrated on April 15, 2015 (National Bookmobile Day 2015 – Bookmobiles at a Glance, 2015). These sets of standards and promotional activities have helped libraries plan, implement, and market successful bookmobile programs in their communities.
Library services today are about so much more than just the physical books: movies, music, internet access, and programming have all become essential elements in serving the community. To meet these needs, libraries have begun incorporating these elements into their bookmobile services. The Ottawa Public Library Bookmobile, for example, offers both regular and large print books, audio books, magazines, DVDs, video games, and multi-language materials (McMeekin, 2014). The Tippecanoe County Public Library Mobile Library carries, “just about every type of material that is available in [their] main and branch libraries,” (Clements, 2008) with movies being their highest circulating items.
Other libraries, like the Memphis/Shelby County Public Library & Information Center, have focused on providing internet access as a main component of their bookmobile services. Rebranded the InfoBUS, the Memphis/Shelby County Public Library & Information Center’s vehicle has 4 patron computers and two staff computers so patrons can access the internet and the library’s databases (King & Shanks, 2000). The Toledo-Lucas County Public Library, a large metropolitan library system, has gone even further, maintaining a separate Bookmobile and Cybermobile. The Bookmobile provides books, music, magazines, and movies while the Cybermobile functions as a dedicated “classroom on wheels” (Outreach Services, 2014) for teaching technology skills and digital literacy in the community (Outreach Services, 2014). This variety of materials and resources gives bookmobile users access that is on par with what is available in the main and/or branch libraries of a particular library system.
These decisions about what materials and services to include on bookmobiles are made after identification of the target community and a careful evaluation of that community’s needs. The Memphis/Shelby County Public Library & Information Center knew they needed to “ask ourselves what the community needed” (King & Shanks, 2000) when designing their InfoBUS. After identifying immigrant Hispanic populations as a key target, they decided that, “a mobile branch library equipped with public access computer terminals connected to the Internet is uniquely suited to meet the needs of the non-English speaking target audience,” since, “[c]ustomers want to connect with their culture via the Internet” (King & Shanks, 2000). Other bookmobiles, like the Jackson County Public Library’s Discovery Bus, focus on providing services to a wide range of patrons without access to the library at locations such as daycares, nursing homes/assisted living centers, apartment complexes, rural communities, homebound patrons, juvenile detention centers, mobile home parks, and so on (Gardner, 2009). In each case, the library considered the needs of its community and focused efforts on reaching under-served residents with library materials and services targeted to those populations.