There was an article in today’s Telegram about the possibility of bookmobile service. I’ve written about bookmobiles before (1, 2, 3) and I (of course) love the idea of expanding library services to neighborhoods (like mine) that are far from any branch.
My concern about bookmobiles would be that we could find funding for one year but not be able to fund it for subsequent years. I think the point of bookmobile service would really be a sustained commitment to literacy. A bookmobile would be great for an institution like Holy Cross — located in an area that has been missing a library branch for nearly 20 years — to sponsor, but I think my concerns about PILOT are valid. A non-profit might very well sponsor a bookmobile for $100,000 a year, but cuts to the library might still continue and force the discontinuation of bookmobile service.
If we’re going to be spending $100,000 to $250,000 a year on additional library services, I’d rather we look at cheap(er) ways that we can encourage literacy.
For instance, this idea mentioned in last Thursday’s Worcesteria:
The Shaw’s Supermarket in the Webster Square Plaza (across the street from Gates Lane School) is too large for its volume of sales. So market officials have removed some shelving and shortened all of the aisles. The store now has so much clean and empty space that it could be used to house a small branch of the Worcester Public Library. When the main library downtown was closed for renovations several years ago, the temporary branch on Fremont Street (now the Fremont Lofts) was packed with children, teens and adults from that area of the city. A Shaw’s official loved the idea.
For the record, I was totally in love with the Fremont Street temporary branch (even though it was way too small). It had the selection of a library with the feel of a funky used book shop. (Montague Book Mill, anyone?)
I don’t think we need more mini-branches.
I think we need to identify ways to (1) increase donations of used books to the library’s Friends and (2) get those books in the hands of people who need them.
One of the points of a public library (as I see it) is to encourage reading and literacy. Sometimes that can be done with storytimes. Sometimes that can be done with lending books.
But the be-all and end-all of a library does not need to be in owning books that get lent out to the public.
We need to focus on encouraging people to donate books to the library Friends rather than to groups like Got Books? We can do that by getting donation boxes like those you see around town, by actively telling people that the library Friends will pick up their donations, and by letting residents know that we can pick up the books they don’t sell at the end of their yard sales. There are likely plenty of other ways that we can encourage donations that I haven’t thought of.
We need to focus on soliciting venues that might have space for a bookcase or two of free books. These venues could be Union Station, laundromats, florists, and — yes — supermarkets. These venues could be as simple as a “leave a book/take a book” sign attached to the sides and front of a bookcase, but the library could provide handouts to let “patrons” know about library services. (So, you’d have some library card applications, Friends of the Library newsletters and handouts about upcoming events to encourage folks to also use library branches.)
For summer months, we could also look at “Lighter, Quicker, Cheaper” projects like The Uni, which could be brought to playgrounds, parks, and pools as an easy way to encourage literacy.
Folks who read this blog regularly know that I feel that the Public Library as an institution is in a state of incredible transition and that I think it’s going to experience some major redefinition. But I think encouraging of literacy is something that it should always be its business.
As we’ve heard on a million 508s, Worcester is not Providence: it’s got a huge area and it’s not terribly dense. That means that we’ve got to be smarter about getting books to underserved neighborhoods, and we’ve got to be smart about how we spend our money.
If we can find the right venues (and it could just be a matter of working with laundromats, neighborhood centers, and the right small businesses), this could be a way for the library to get books into the hands of children, teens, and adults who want to read, and a cheap way for the library to both increase literacy and advertise its services.