Monday, 8 December 2008

Chile University Bookmobile, not exactly a child's bookmobile, but one that is specialised.

The operation of Chile University Bookmobile is taken from an article by M.L. Arenas written in 1973. the Bookmobile was operational in 1968. At that time, and as far as I know at this time as well, the University of Chile had departments widely spread around each with its own specialist library. the public libraries were poor, so students did not have much of a chance to develop cross curricula and broad reading skills. There was a need for a general library to be accessible to all the students, and the idea of using a bookmobile was developed. Parking space was sometimes a problem, which is always the case with a large van. They issued books, records (remember vinyl?) and music scores, and visual slides which were lent with a viewer. The items could be returned to any faculty library.

Unusually, borrowing required no registration, no special card, no overdue fines or membership suspension for defaulters. It made it very easy to use. Ease of use is a major factor in the success of a mobile library. If a customer is worried that they will not be able to return an item at the correct time, or they are likely to miss the visit, or they have to have some special membership, it is likely that they will not use the service at all. Few constraints and co-operation with local libraries is a good way to promote the mobile service, while getting people into the borrowing habit, and getting them into static libraries as well.

Pre-school mobile library in Carolina. "Just a Little Bus".

Pre-school mobile library in Carolina. "Just a Little Bus".

When I read this article I found a lot of parallels in this service to that of the Reading Rocket. "A little bus on wheels"is an article by Marian Lytle written in 1994 about a children's bookmobile in Carolina, America. This service, called "Stories to go" was started in 1990 by Rowan public libraries because of the popularity of the existing bookmobile's storytelling service. This appears to be the only part of the service that was expanding at the time because they were losing their rural visitors. It was logical for them to provide an exclusive service for pre-school children.
This was achieved by linking up with the "Head Start" and other under fives centres. "Head Start" is the American inspiration for the British "Sure Start". Specialist staff were deployed to deliver the service, one bookmobile library assistant, and one part-time staff member from the outreach storytelling programme.

The goal for the bookmobile was to provide stories to increase literacy and library membership for the children so that they could borrow books to take home to their families. These are the same sentiments on which the Reading Rocket was started, specialist staff used to dealing with children, telling stories and rhymes to pre-school children, and older ones as well, visiting Sure-start centres, playgroups, nurseries as well as schools and older children. The Rocket's remit was larger, aiming to target the hard to reach groups in area's of disadvantage after school time.

Back to America. Philip Barton, the originator of the project, asserts that "Lifelong literacy is nurtured by warm memories of being read to as a child". The proposal to their managers was ""Stories to Go" promises that children who might have little chance to visit a full service library could now have access to books and programs on a regular basis." The vehicle was transformed by the work of prison inmates, on a work experience programme. The interior was designed with small people in mind, having low benches and display areas. It only cost seven and a half thousand dollars to do. That, however, used up most of their budget, so financial donations were need to provide the book stock. The Children's bookmobile visits each centre once a month where the staff present a 30 minute "Literature based program". The children with library cards choose a book to take home, those who do not can choose a book to keep in their preschool centre, which means that every single child has a opportunity to select a book. Their carers also have an opportunity to choose literacy activity materials to use with their groups.

There was a concern expressed by the daycare providers that they would be held responsible for the books children borrowed. We encountered exactly the same reaction when we started the Reading Rocket. It took some considerable reassurance that the books were not the responsibility of the schools, or the teachers, and that it was the complete responsibility of the library to reclaim library books and deal with defaced, lost or destroyed books. Rowan Public libraries dealt with the situation in the same way, a lot of reassurance that overdue notices would be sent out to parents, as for any child library member. Rowan public libraries did not fine late books, but accepted the cost of replacement books. The Reading Rocket did not deal with money at all, if a book was lost, that was it, the end of the matter. another similarity between the Reading rocket and "Stories to go " is the assumption by under fives staff that books that were taken home would not be appreciated, "no-one would read to them" and books were therefore not allowed to be taken home. Some teachers of schools to which the reading Rocket visited expressed fears that books taken home would be sold. A lot of trust needed to be built up between the school the child and the library.

After the "Stories to go" project was set up, they found that operational details needed to be adjusted to suit the circumstances. For instance they found it better to send library card to the child's home, keeping disposable ones on the vehicle. They also found providing the centres with storages boxes for the books helped them not to get lost. We found similar solutions to the same problems in the Reading Rocket. It would be interesting to find out if the "Stories to go" bookmobile is still in operation.

Thursday, 20 November 2008

Is ten a good enough number?

Well, after going through all the local authority websites listed on Direct.Gov I found 10 proper specialised Children's mobile libraries (Actually, I think that it is 11 because Leicester has two vehicles), 13 School library service vehicles, and a handful of other shared/dual purpose vehicles. There are some that have come and gone, some that were only meant to be for a short season, just summer holiday storytelling. I had a brief conversation with a school librarian last week, who informed me that when she worked at Staveley in Derbyshire, she has spent some time during the summer holidays on the mobile library. This is something I must follow up. She only did it a few times because she said she suffered from travel sickness and felt very queasy travelling around in the van.

So, the question is, is ten enough or is it just the right number to do a really good investigation? Of course, there may be others that I have not yet unearthed and I will carry on my mission of seeking out children's mobile libraries not only in Britain, but across the universe. The ones that I have found are in Bexley, Birmingham and Blackburn, Edinburgh, Leicester (x2) and Manchester, Rhondda Cynon Taff, Southampton, Stockport and Swansea. There are more School library service mobiles, but I am not sure have relevant they are, or what effect they have on children because they only visit schools, and then at most termly, or merely twice a year. The number of books they allow the classes to borrow varies from just one or two per child, to lots (well, that is not a very specific sum I know, I have the figure 500 in my head, not per child, of course, but per school, or per class, and I can't quite remember what the exact allocation is). They certainly operate to a different model, but that could be something to compare, if 10 is not enough.

Monday, 10 November 2008

I'm up to M now.

Haringay have two children's mobiles, but it was really difficult to find out about them. The main information was on a pdf of a children's library services leaflet. Anyway, one is a toy library and surestart book bus, and the other is a Baby bus! Hertfordshire has a School library service mobile that visits schools termly, as does the one in the Isle of Wight. Leicester City also has two Book Buses, one specifically for underfives, that visit the outer estates of Leicester. Their service has been running for the past 27 years and appears to be the oldest in the country. They have a pageful of information on the website which seems to show the pride and success they have in the service. This would be a good service to investigate further.

I was dissappointed with the county of Leicestershire, because although I knew that they had a school library service mobile library last year, (I applied for a job in the School library service, but didn't get it) there is no mention of it at all on their website. Presumabley it is yet another one that has bitten the dust. Lincolnshire has a school library service van and Manchester has the elegantly named Reading Voyager. Merthyr Tydfil wins the prize for being the most interseting and informative website. It does not have a specific children's mobile library, but the "normal" mobile library has one day a week devoted to visiting schools. Some insightful person has asked the child customers what they think of the service, and has posted all their comments as a justifcation of it. This again seems to merit further examination.

Thursday, 6 November 2008

I think I need a finer net

Well, so far I have got up to G and only found 3 more children's mobile libraries. One is a public library, one is a school library service vehicle, and the other is shared between to two services, which seems to be a jolly good idea to me. The children's mobile libary information seems to be hidden on many local council webpages, with little mention on the headings, just a snippet at the end of a page, or by following lots of links. It takes a lot of clicks to find some of them. Are councils trying to hide the fact that they exist? or are they considered unimportant? Could this be the difference between success and failure, is a higher profile needed? These and other questions need to be answered. So the latest fishes in my catch are Edinburgh City council's "Book Bus", Gloucestershire's shared vehicle and Doncaster's school library service vehicle. I knew of the existance of the Edinburgh vehicle which made me search the website to find mention of it. It was put in Access services, without a link to the mobile library area or the children's services area. I only found it by searching the main site.

I knew about it because the head of edinburgh City Libraries came to visit the Reading Rocket when I was working on it, to get some ideas of what the Edinburgh vehicle should be like. From the description of the vehicle it seems to be the most like the reading Rocket that I have seen so far. It mentions face on display of books, which was one of our hallmarks.

Monday, 3 November 2008

Trawling the net for children's mobile libraries

My internet was down all last week, but I managed to do some searching in University to establish if anyone else is currently researching Children's mobile libraries. Guess what, no-one is doing anything close. Well, apart from someone at Leeds Met who has done something on Children's libraries. At least I have eliminated any competition.

Today I have been going through all the local authority websites to find if they run Children's Mobile Libraries. I have completed A-B! Well, that isn't strictly true, because some of the sites were borough or district councils that redirected me to the county council. So, so far I have found Public library run children's mobiles in:- Bexley, Birmingham (Words on Wheels) and Blackburn. I found School Library service mobiles in Nottingham, Suffolk (three vehicles), Essex, Northumberland (out of action due to flooding), Shropshire and Worcestershire. That's nine so far. There is a possible one that is part of a community bus in Bath, but the refererence I found for it was dated 2003, so some following up needs to be done to see if the service is still going.

Tuesday, 21 October 2008

History of Mobile Libraries (Part one)

In 1980, G. I. J. Orton wrote a history of Mobile Libraries in the U.K. His definition of what a "Mobile Library " is, involves the use of the "Internal Combustion Engine". Prior to the use of vehicles into which people could walk and choose books, boxes of books were taken around to villages, branch libraries, schools, or even family homes. We would call these deposit collections. They were known as "Traveling Libraries" and were commonly delivered by horse and cart. This means that the "mobile" camel library, or elephant library are not "Mobile Libraries " in Orton's sense of the word. In the early 1900's, Staffordshire circulated boxes of books for local populations, around library centres based in Schools. there were 50 books available, thirty of which circulated and 60% were children's books. Orton does not specify which Baltimore he means, but apparently in a Baltimore during 1943, the horse and cart delivery was reinstated because children found it preferable. there had been "Juvenile Delinquent " problems there.

The terms for a library that moves have been variously known as "Circulating Libraries", "Traveling Libraries", "Bibliobus", "Library Coach", "Book bus" and of course in America they are know as "Bookmobiles". In 1920's Britain a van that people could enter and browse books on shelves were known as "Exhibition Vehicles". The 1925 one from Norfolk contained one third Juvenile Fiction. It appears that the idea of mobile libraries didn't really take off until the second world war. Hastings owned a mobile library van, but because of pressures during wartime (not specified) it was put up for loan. the Borough of St Pancras adopted it and it carried a "Good choice of children's books". I 1954, only 10% of all U.K. mobile libraries carried children's books. Vehicles were sometimes put to use for children.

In 1958 Nottinghamshire used two vehicles in the summer holidays to visit villages with a Children's librarian. By 1966 the idea had blossomed and most local authorities offered the same service. Caernarvonshire used one in1961 to take a termly supply of books to schools but it was also used to transport books to branch libraries. Specific vehicles for children did not emerge until the 1960's. Possibly the first child specific mobile library was produced in 1963 by Moray County Library. It functioned specifically for primary age children, carried 200 books and had sufficient room for 36 children (a classful) and their teacher. Schools were visited fortnightly and each class allowed 20 minutes to choose their books. Local government boundary reorganisation paused the development of all mobile libraries for a while, so the next stage comes in the 1970's.

the summer of 1975 appears to be the year of the Children's mobile library. Leicester County Libraries converted a corporation double decker bus into a "Magic Mobile Library" to tour the "Non-reading" parts of Leicester. It was decorated with witches, goblins and ghosts, aimed to serve under 14's and their parents. It stayed in places for about an hour, showing films, holding competitions and story times. I was in Leicester at that time, but I don't ever remember seeing it. Southampton had a pink "Book bus" charged with the mission to break down barriers between children and libraries. It's raison-detre was as community liaison, not just to deliver books. I think that is the aspect of mobile libraries that local government politicians and accountants fail to perceive. They are community assets, they are "ideal publicity machines" for local authorities (Orton 1980) they socialize and link disparate communities. Back to the summer of '75...

... Hammersmith brought out the "Pied Piper that visited 18 schools, and in 1976, Shropshire had a less formal pied piper too. As Orton was writing in the late 70's , that is where this story ends. He finished by stressing that economic pressures and increasing fuel costs were presenting problems for mobile library services. Well there is no change there then.

Wednesday, 15 October 2008


Just been searching Jstor for "Children's Mobile Library" and "Bookmobile", but got few results. the only relevant thing was two sentences in a 1947 article about a library authority in America, that sent out their book mobiles to take books tho increase the literacy in sparsely populated areas. This sounds a bit vague, but I did save the page.

Also tried to make contact with someone called Ian Stringer who acoring to Cilip is Britain's foremost authority on Mobile Libraries. I hope he replies.

Tuesday, 14 October 2008

Children's Mobile Libraries: The power of reading

Children's Mobile Libraries: The power of reading

The power of reading

Stephen D. Krashen in "The Power of Reading" expresses that society demands more reading skills than it used to. Everything today is sign posted... with words. Supermarket aisles, road signs, notices on shops. People communicate through emails, chat sites, instant messaging and social networking, all require a reasonable command of words. Even text messages, with their coded short cuts. I know two individuals under the age thirty who disdain textish and write theirs in proper grammatical and sometimes lyrical English. According to Krashen extensive reading leads to good literary style and an improved general knowledge.

Children that read over the summer holidays, even if it is a small amount, gain a cumulative effect of increased literacy. Libraries understand the importance of this and for about five or six years there has been national summer reading challenges for children attending libraries. The challenges seem to be increasingly popular and focus staff on providing books and activities for children and younger people. When the Reading Rocket (Derby City Libraries' Children's mobile library) was operational, It took books and the summer reading challenge, out into the deepest parts of inner Derby, where not all our clients participated, but even finished the challenge, but they had books to read. Yesterday I found a book written in 1967 that devotes a chapter to the sort of services a mobile library should provide for children. (Mobile Libraries;- and other public library transport by C R Eastwood) He suggest that libraries with spare vehicles, staff and books (in your dreams Mr Eastwood) during the summer holidays should have a special holiday mobile library. Apparently there were successful schemes in Nottinghamshire, Shropshire and East Suffolk.

Krashen also writes a lot about how reading can help someone develop a second language. Many places that the Reading Rocket visited had children from different countries, parts of Asia, eastern Europe and Africa, all doing very well with English and translating for their parents. He states that children do better when parents read to them, Surely this would also improve the parents literacy. He thinks that if there is more books in a Child's home, they will read more. (page 57 gives more examples). He considers access to public libraries means more reading and crucially, it is the child's own choice of book that matters MORE that what the book is.

Thursday, 9 October 2008

The research starts

Children's mobile libraries take books out into communities where there is little chance for children to be able to get hold of books. They serve a useful social function. In some parts of the world they use elephants or camels to carry the books. Here in Britain it is mainly by a large bus like van. Teachers, Librarians, children all think that mobile libraries are the best things since sliced bread. But, there has to be a but, are they too expensive to run?

I am researching the social value against the running costs of children's mobile libraries. I am using this blog as a quantitative research diary to put down observations, thoughts, notes and gathered pieces of information, like a scrap book that can then be reassembled into a thesis.