How far will your Library go to serve its community? By one measure: well more than 1,000 miles.
It’s the distance – growing by the day – covered by the Kansas City Public Library’s Bookmobile since it began making regularly scheduled stops at 15 locations across the metropolitan area last October. Those twice-monthly destinations range from Save, Inc., which offers transitional and emergency housing a few blocks from Troost Park, to the Paseo Baptist Church’s Erma L. Williams Learning Center and the Sherwood Autism Center on Ward Parkway.
The intent is to reach populations unable to use fixed library locations because of transportation, accessibility, or other challenges. In its first five months, the Bookmobile Stops service accommodated nearly 1,900 people.
Those patrons checked out 2,755 books and other items. Close to 800 of them participated in programs offered through the Bookmobile, including a record 232 in February.
“We have a lot of stops where we’ve become part of the regular routine of the people there,” says Isaac Halberstadt, a mobile services associate who helps staff the Bookmobile. “We go to Nowlin Hall (near East High School on Hardesty Avenue), which is low-income housing for mostly seniors, and they tell us all the time that they’ve been waiting in the lobbies for us to get there. We bring them a really important source of enrichment and stimulation that they otherwise wouldn’t get because they have difficulty getting to the regular libraries.”
In other neighborhoods, the Bookmobile makes timely stops near school bus drop-off points. “The kids get home from school and go to the Bookmobile and check out new books, and that’s regular part of their biweekly routine,” Halberstadt says.
“Not all of our stops are that busy. Some are slower than others. But I think at the stops that have good circulation, we’ve really cemented ourselves with patrons and done a lot of good library work for them.”
The customized, brightly emblazoned Library on wheels, operated by KCPL’s Mobile Services department, rolled out in September 2020 after the Library had gone more than half a century without a Bookmobile. It was just six months into the COVID-19 pandemic, and the vehicle was only deployed to events.
The move to regularly scheduled visits – on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays – came as the Library returned to more normal operations across its system. The Bookmobile also makes stops outside its normal schedule on what’s billed as Fun Fridays, joins in selected community events, and is available by request.
Stepping inside, patrons find a rotating collection of books for on-the-spot browsing and checkout. The Bookmobile team also helps patrons place holds, issues library cards, and offers special monthly programming for kids and adults. Tech resources are especially popular, and vital. The Bookmobile is equipped with Wi-Fi, lending access to the internet. Chromebooks and Wi-Fi hotspots also are available for checkout. There’s free printing.
In concert with the Library’s Community Resources department, there’s also a selection of reading glasses for patrons who need them – to keep, not just borrow – and care bags of food and hygiene items for individuals experiencing homelessness or with emergency needs. Bookmobile staffers also can help individuals connect with social service providers.
“We’ve shaped the Bookmobile into a mobile community hub,” Halberstadt says.
Mobile services librarian Annie Windholz, who joins him on the regular two-person staff, values the “individualized, in-person library service to patrons who have limited or no experience with libraries.
“My favorite part,” she says, “is the one-on-one relationships and trust we are building by consistently showing up and following up on patrons’ interests as we get to know them personally. While this happens in branches, too, there is something unique about being able to bring that to a patron's doorstep instead of asking them to come to the doorstep of a traditional library branch.”