Column Description: Every library has its unique goals and challenges and this is especially true for mobile libraries. Julia Verbanic has been with the Buffalo & Erie County Bookmobile for three years as a senior page, a part-time librarian, and now as branch manager and has gained experience and knowledge in the many aspects of Bookmobile operation. Each column will focus on a different element of managing a Bookmobile from collection development, to community outreach, to scheduling stops and vehicle maintenance. Along the way, Julia invites others with mobile libraries or questions about bookmobiles to reach out with their own experiences and questions.
It has now been over a year since the COVID-19 pandemic changed our lives and we have all learned a lot about adapting to uncertainty. Work on the bookmobile has also had to adapt, especially with library closings and social distancing restrictions that made it difficult or impossible for the bookmobile to go out at all. However, staff in mobile service and outreach departments have worked tirelessly and creatively to find new ways to engage with their patrons.
When library operations resumed in June, the B&ECPL mobile services department began reaching back out to our regular stops to see what services we could provide for them. At that time, many places were still closed and our lobby stops at older adult facilities were not allowing visitors inside. It was at this time that we developed our pick-up and drop-off services.
Every Monday, we would deliver new material to our lobby stops and pick up any returns. We didn’t go inside, in fact, we usually met the programs coordinator at the door with bags of books. Patrons would be able to call, email, or write to us their requests for the next month. This was a great opportunity to still check in with our patrons, many of whom were completely isolated, and looked forward to the chance to talk to someone. We even began a newsletter to include with each person’s drop-off to keep them informed on what was happening at the library and to keep them engaged with the bookmobile community.
As vaccines get distributed, many of our lobby stops are allowing us back inside for patron browsing, but our pick-up/drop-off services are still an option. There is also the added bonus of driving the bookmobile around on a regular basis that reminds the public that we are still here for them.
During the warmer months, we are able to take the bookmobile to locations and set it up outside of the vehicle. Patrons are still able to come on the bookmobile if they have their mask on, but only one family unit is able to come on at a time. To help with social distancing, we can bring a table to set up outside so that patrons can talk with staff members while they wait. Some of our lobby stops opted for this rather than the drop-off/pick-up service. We unload trucks of books and spread them out on the sidewalk or parking lot so that patrons can browse. During the cold winter months, these stops become drop-off/pick-up but they can return to outdoor browsing with the upcoming warm weather.
This year was also a great time for us to step up our social media game. Just before the pandemic hit, we had decided to create a Twitter and Instagram account specifically for our mobile services department. Not only have we been able to really focus on our social media presence but we’ve also been able to connect with the community while we are unable to be together in person. This has been a great way to strengthen partnerships as well by sharing each other’s resources and learning about shared goals that could turn into future outreach opportunities.
What has your outreach service been doing throughout the pandemic? If you have any bookmobile questions or would like to talk about your own bookmobile, please feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Julia Verbanic is a Bookmobile librarian at the Buffalo & Erie County Public Library and is committed to community outreach and diverse representation in library services. She received her MLIS from the University of Buffalo in 2019 where she researched collection development for underserved populations at public libraries as well as LGBTQ+ young adult user behavior. With the Bookmobile, her mission is to serve all populations in Erie County with focus on the diverse communities that may feel overlooked or unwelcomed in physical library spaces. When she is not at work, she spends her time writing horror stories, playing video games, and hanging with her dogs, Kyleigh and Hecate.