Outreach Programs and Students: How?

Outreach programs have a large impact on children in all communities and can be done in a variety of ways. With new technologies constantly emerging, libraries and librarians are finding different ways to get students involved and engaged in the library and reading. Outreach programs can be done in a variety of ways and in a variety of places. Some libraries host programs at the library, travel to schools, or host events at other community-center locations, such as a shopping mall. The collaboration between public and school librarians is important to help get students excited about the programs. School librarians can help by promoting the different activities offered to make sure all interested students are aware of the event offered.

Public libraries in Wicomico County in Maryland offer numerous outreach programs to help assist student learning. The librarians send out flyers and newsletters to schools that “describe educational activities that parents can do with their children. It summarizes developmentally appropriate books and the purposes for reading to young children” (Martinez, 2008). While flyers and newsletters may go unread by some, this could be beneficial for parents with full-time jobs who may not have the opportunity to attend different events. With the information provided by the library, they can still ensure they are helping their children grow as readers and can be involved in their learning. The libraries in Wicomico County also offer events at mall and other community organizations where they provide information about their different library services, and well as host story time events (Martinez, 2008). In my experience, children of all ages love to listen to stories read aloud. By hosting story time events at various locations, libraries can engage the community and hook children in to reading.

A popular way for public libraries to reach students is by making visits to the schools in the area. The libraries in Maryland host multiple Family Fun Nights at different schools in the area where they offer homework help, read stories, make crafts that go along with books that are read, and provide sample materials from the libraries (Martinez, 2008). These events are held after school hours, but the librarians make sure they offer exciting and engaging activities geared toward the students. Other librarians make visits to schools during school hours. During these outreach programs, librarians can do a variety of things with each grade level. Some of the activities that can be done during the school day are story times or book talks and discussions (Martinez, 2008). I work closely with a librarian from the public library in the city in which I live. The librarian makes frequent visits to my school to promote different activities going on in the library. One of the biggest programs she talks about is the 5th Grade Battle of the Books program. For this program, around fifteen books, both fiction and nonfiction, are chosen for the Battle. Students who want to participate form teams for the Battle. They are expected to read all of the books on the list and then compete in a “Quiz Bowl” type competition. The final competition takes place on a Saturday at the public library. The librarian visits the schools to kick off the Battle. She gets the students pumped up about the competition by showing trailers of a few of the books. This year, I had over half of my 5th graders compete in the Battle of the Books, and two of the teams from my school came in 1st and 2nd place! The public librarian had a very large role in this program by getting the students excited about the event. This was a very successful outreach program that involved a large population of our community.

Outreach programs can have a very positive effect on student achievement. This was shown in a program done in Virginia. The elementary school and public library in Northumberland, Virginia created an outreach program called One School, One Book. For this program, all families purchased the same book and read this book during a specified month. The elementary school also had designated times during the school day where students were to read this specific book. Teachers assigned homework about the book, as well. The public library made sure they had numerous copies of the book available to families who were not able to purchase it. Librarians at the public library also offered read-aloud times after school for anyone who wanted to attend. This program was widely successful and helped improved student test scores. “Over a three-year period following the program’s inception, test results had improved and students were found to be averaging 90% or better on a standardized reading test” (Leitaq, Barratt-Pugh, Anderson, Barblett, & Haig, 2015). This program involved the entire community and brought everyone together. Not only that, but students were achieving at a higher rate and performing better on state testing. This is an example of one way libraries can provide an outreach program designed specifically for students.

Public libraries can also provide outreach programs to students by offering after-school programs either at the library or at the school. This can be done by having public librarians collaborate with administrators and teachers to make sure they are providing support and activities that coincide with the school curriculum. An example of a program like this was done at the Portage Lakes Branch Library in Ohio. This program was very successful because all parties involved were motivated to help students succeed. “The school is enthusiastically collaborating with the library to provide services to children in the after-school program that focus on a multi-level, international, and performing arts theme involving multiple subject areas” (Harper, 2014). This program involved collaboration from both the public library and the schools to make sure the program was focusing on needs specific to the students involved.

In addition to providing programs to students in school, libraries can provide outreach programs to families with younger children who are getting ready to attend school. This was done by a library in Ohio, where staff members traveled to different neighborhoods, particularly at-risk neighborhoods, to provide programs to children under the age of five. The purpose for this was to help get the little ones ready to attend school. This program was called the Ready to Read Corps’ and was geared toward those who were not able to visit the library. The program’s main focus was to provide “prereading skills necessary for early literacy and kindergarten readiness” (Swell, 2012). Librarians went to different areas around the community, such as salons and Laundromats, to provide parents and children with the skills they’ll need when entering school. “During trainings, parents and caregivers receive a take-home kit that includes board books, finger puppets, crayons, and literature about prereading skills” (Swell, 2012). This is a great way to ensure parents are continuing to work with their children on fundamental skills that will strengthen their reading. Parents attending these programs can learn more and practice these skills at home without having to go to the library. This can be a large factor to some who might not have the time to actually visit the library. The librarians involved in this program stated, “We’ve learned we’re providing an invaluable service to parents, caregivers, and children in our community. The challenges we face are well worth our efforts to transform the lives of those who benefit most – our children” (Swell, 2012). An outreach program like that can be extremely beneficial to many children in a community. Parents want their children to succeed in school, and by offering an outreach program such as this one, libraries can help make this happen.

Outreach programs for students can take place in a number of different ways and locations. The most important factor in this is the collaboration between public libraries and schools. All parties involved need to collaborate to make sure different programs are provided for all learners. “School and public librarians have many opportunities to collaborate to meet the needs of their respective patron bases, share resources, and advocate for each other. Becoming knowledgeable and aware of the services provided by each, establishing systematic and effective communication about new initiatives and programming, and supporting the efforts of one another to provide quality services and resources to students is a good first step to developing a mutually beneficial collaborative relationship” (Harper, 2014).


Harper, M. (2014). Collaboration of School and Public Libraries. Ohio Media Spectrum, 66(1), 47-56.

Leitaq, N., Barratt-Pugh, C., Anderson, K., Barblett, L., & Haig, Y. (2015). Engaging Children in Reading for Pleasure: A Better Beginnings Project Linking Libraries with Primary Schools. Libri: International Journal of Libraries & Information Services, 65(1), 1-24.

Martinez, G. (2008). Public Libraries – Community Organizations Making Outreach Efforts to Help Young Children Succeed in School. School Community Journal, 18(1), 93-104.

Swell, K. (2012). Beyond Library Walls: Improving Kindergarten Readiness in At-Risk Communities. Children & Libraries: The Journal of the Association for Library Service to Children, 10(1), 27-29.


Outreach Programs and Students: Why?

Libraries and schools have often worked together to promote reading in children. Many libraries provide outreach programs for children of all ages to participate in, both at the library and at schools and sometimes at other locations, as well. Public libraries and schools have teamed up to make sure they are providing the best support and assistance to their patrons to make sure they are fully supporting their communities (Harper, 2014). As with school librarians, public librarians want to provide assistance and support to all students and this can be done through different outreach programs. “Both libraries are accountable to their communities and advocate for their importance and continued sustainability. Fiscally, libraries must also do more with less and be vigilant in demonstrating their due diligence in providing high quality service and resources while keeping up with the ever-changing kaleidoscope of emerging technologies and national agendas such as the Common Core” (Harper, 2014). Many public libraries support schools by offering after-school homework help activities, and the librarians try to coordinate with teachers to make sure they are offering all that they can to their patrons. Librarians in public libraries can help teachers and students by making sure they offer a range of materials, both print and electronic.

Public librarians play an important role that may not often be noticed by the public. They are co-instructors to students, alongside of classroom educators and they are also “professional-development providers for those teachers” (Harper, 2014). Many may not realize the importance and usefulness of public libraries in coordination with schools. Librarians can help support students both in and out of school in a number of ways, and the public needs to realize the helpfulness provided by public libraries and librarians. Communities need to recognize this and make sure they are not underestimating “the extent to which public librarians can reinforce and support our work and our kids’ learning well beyond the school day” (Harper, 2014). Public libraries can help support students throughout the year in a number of ways. These outreach programs can have a very positive effect on student learning and achievement in school and can often help develop lifelong learners and readers in the community. “Public libraries, particularly, are well-positioned to support children and families to develop language and literacy skills through out-of-school reading because they are accessible to all members of the community, have longer opening hours than most educational facilities and provide ready access to information and communications technology” (Leitaq, Barratt-Pugh, Anderson, Barblett, & Haig, 2015). Because students only attend school for nine out of the twelve months of the year, libraries provide additional support and learning to children to make sure they keep up their literacy skills and continue to grow as learners. Many outreach programs can take place during the school year, but summer programs can greatly help children sustain their knowledge and thrive. “Family and community members invested in these partnerships assist by providing academic support to children while they are not in school” (Martinez, 2008). Not only can library outreach programs help learners make gains in their learning, but they help bring communities together as a whole. Patrons want to feel welcome in libraries and this can be done by offering different programs to all members of a community. “Partnerships and collaboration between public libraries and other agencies are important. This is because they enable public libraries to expand their programs and services and, potentially, reach more people in the community” (Leitaq, Barratt-Pugh, Anderson, Barblett, & Haig, 2015). By having programs that bring a community together, libraries can create inviting environments where all feel welcome regardless of reading abilities. Many different programs can be offered to support students of all needs. Collaboration between public and school libraries is so important to support the community and this can be done by offering outreach programs that focus on student achievement and learning. Overall, student outreach programs are beneficial to everyone involved, and there are many different ways to make this happen.


Harper, M. (2014). Collaboration of School and Public Libraries. Ohio Media Spectrum, 66(1), 47-56.

Leitaq, N., Barratt-Pugh, C., Anderson, K., Barblett, L., & Haig, Y. (2015).    Engaging Children in Reading for Pleasure: A Better Beginnings Project Linking Libraries with Primary Schools. Libri: International Journal of Libraries & Information Services, 65(1), 1-24.

Martinez, G. (2008). Public Libraries – Community Organizations Making Outreach Efforts to Help Young Children Succeed in School. School Community Journal, 18(1), 93-104.

Bookmobiles as Outreach Tools Part 3: Today’s Bookmobiles – When?

Today’s Bookmobiles: When

Bookmobiles have also been improving their services by careful selection of routes and stops to reach targeted populations. Section 1.4 of the ABOS Guidelines (2008) identifies the criteria for selecting and maintaining bookmobile stops. The Guidelines specify that the bookmobile schedule must take into account appropriate hours of service for the different populations, a minimum half hour duration per stop, and ongoing evaluation of stops which allows for schedule changes as needed (National Book Mobile Guidelines, 2008). Some bookmobiles meet this criteria by adhering to a specific schedule, which is evaluated on an ongoing basis to ensure it remains effective in reaching the target populations. The Tippecanoe County Public Library (TCPL) Mobile Library, for instance, rotates between a summer, fall, and winter/spring schedule with 36 stops every other week, and stop durations ranging from thirty minutes to two hours and fifteen minutes (Clements, 2008).

Others, like the Memphis/Shelby County InfoBUS, pride themselves on retaining maximum flexibility by having a different schedule each week (King & Shanks, 2000). The InfoBUS’s manager believes that not being “bound to a schedule like a [traditional] bookmobile […] allows us to be very specific about what we want to do when we get there” (King & Shanks, 2000). In other words, the InfoBUS can best serve its target populations with a constantly changing schedule that allows staff to provide of-the-moment programs and services to InfoBUS patrons. Whatever the model, bookmobile are committed to providing regular services as needed to their targeted populations.



The bookmobile as an outreach tool has a rich and ongoing history in American life. Bookmobiles continue to provide needed materials and services to populations without ready access to a library building. By following guidelines and standards, identifying target populations, and aligning their services to the needs of their current patrons, bookmobiles have successfully brought a wide variety of quality resources to their patrons. Dedicated bookmobile librarians know that, “[w]hen we deliver public library resources and services to our patrons’ neighborhoods, backyards, parking lots, and parks, we know that we are displaying an undeniably high level of commitment to our community. Our patrons value us and we value them” (Clements, 2008). This, surely, is the mark of successful outreach: that libraries strive to connect their communities to the most valuable library resources and services.


Bashaw, D. (2010). On the Road Again: A Look at Bookmobiles, Then and Now. Children & Libraries: The Journal of the Association for Library Service to Children, 8(1), 32-35.

Clements, A. (2008). On the Move with the TCPL Mobile Library: What it takes to Keep Rolling. Indiana Libraries, 27(1), 26-32.

Cummings, J. (2009). “How Can We Fail?” The Texas State Library’s Traveling Libraries and Bookmobiles,1916-1966. Libraries & The Cultural Record, 44(3), 299-325.

Gardner, F. (2009). Discovery Bus. Indiana Libraries, 28(1) 2-5.

King, B. & Shanks, T. (2000). This is Not Your Father’s Bookmobile. Library Journal, Summer2000 Net Connect, 14-17.

McMeekin, M. (2014). Responding to Change. Argus (Montreal, Quebec), 42(3), 20-23.

National Bookmobile Day 2015 – Bookmobiles at a Glance. (2015). American Library Association, Office for Literacy and Outreach Services (OLOS). Retrieved from http://www.ala.org/offices/olos/nbdhome

National Bookmobile Guidelines. (2008). Association of Bookmobile & Outreach Services. Retrieved from http://abos-outreach.org/about/constitution-bylaws/

Outreach Services. (2014). Toledo-Lucas County Public Library. Retrieved from http://web2.toledolibrary.org/services/outreach-services

Passet, J. E. (1991). Reaching the Rural Reader: Traveling Libraries in America,1892-1920. Libraries & Culture, 26(1), 100-0118.

Bookmobiles as Outreach Tools Part 2: Today’s Bookmobiles – How?

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.

Bookmobiles as Outreach Tools Part 1: Why Bookmobiles? A Little History


Bookmobiles and mobile service stations are an important component of outreach programs in many library systems.  While the demand for traveling and mobile collections of books has waxed and waned since the late 19th century, bookmobiles have maintained a steady presence since their introduction in the early 20th century. Today’s libraries seek to build on the success of the bookmobile model by using these libraries-on-wheels to reach marginalized populations with an ever expanding array of library materials and services.

The Why of Bookmobiles: A Little History

Bookmobiles have their origins in the traveling library movement of the late 19th – early 20th centuries. While Thomas Bray first conceived of the idea in 17th century England, the traveling library movement in the United States began when Melvil Dewey first circulated a traveling library in New York state in 1893 (Passet, 1991). This was the era of the great reform movements, when clubs, many composed of women, sought to cure society’s ills through education and self-improvement, often with a decidedly moralistic agenda. It was felt by these reformers that literacy had the power to, “guarantee social stability and adherence to cherished social and political norms,” (Passet, 1991, p. 101) and “preserve traditional values while embracing progress” (Passet, 1991 p. 101). Lack of public libraries in many communities threatened to derail this progress however, and thus the impetus for the traveling library was born.

The purpose of both the traveling library and the bookmobile has since their inception been to reach individuals without ready access to a nearby public library, or who cannot otherwise access a library due to circumstances such as health, incarceration, lack of transport, and so on (Cummings, 2009). In the traveling library model, crates of books would be shipped to a certain location, displayed in an accessible area like the post office or perhaps an individual’s home, and a local citizen would act as a de facto “librarian” taking charge of the books and their circulation (Cummings, 2009). Many rural communities were provided with reading material they otherwise would not have had access to in this way, but concerns over funding, particularly at the state level, led to the eventual demise of the system (Cummings, 2009). The model of the traveling library was no more, supplanted by that of the bookmobile.

Once the first bookmobile, a horse drawn conveyance dreamt up by librarian Mary Titcomb and known as the Library Wagon, hit the streets of Maryland in 1905 its advantages over the traveling library model soon became apparent (Clements, 2008). A bookmobile, “could move books to people in multiple locations on a single trip” (Cummings, 2009). Whereas traveling libraries set up shop in a specific town, bookmobiles came directly to patrons, and were equipped with knowledgeable and friendly library staff to provide assistance (Cummings, 2009). Bookmobiles particularly proliferated following WWII, and statewide bookmobile programs were begun in the 1950s in direct response to the Cold War (Cummings, 2009). In much the same way that the early reformers thought traveling libraries could produce moral, productive citizens, lawmakers came to believe that bookmobiles could produce democratic citizens united in the fight against Communism. The state librarian of Texas stated that, “an informed, enlightened, intelligent, and alert America is really essential to our defense and freedom. Knowledge through books can aid materially in preserving such freedom” (Cummings, 2009). To that end, the Library Services Act of 1956 was passed to fund library extension activities in rural areas (Cummings, 2009). However, with the advent of the Library Services and Construction Act of 1964, which channeled federal funding into library development and construction in urban areas, statewide bookmobile programs fell by the wayside and were instead incorporated into local library systems as outreach tools, which is the model we are familiar with today (Cummings, 2009).

Image Source: Garber, C. (n.d.) American Bookmobiles; Connections and Conflict an Interview with Derek Attig. The Ultimate History Project. Retrieved from http://www.ultimatehistoryproject.com/bookmobiles-racial-and-cultural-battlegrounds.html