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.