Today I visited Paul Phillips and WOW (Words on Wheels). Paul is a development librarian at Birmingham City and WOW is his mobile library. The whole show is just him, no library manager, no library assistant, just him going around the schools and playgroups of Birmingham, telling stories, reading stories and encouraging parents to read with their children. He also cleans and maintains the vehicle and obviously drives it as well. The idea of a non-issuing mobile library vehicle was conceived around 20 years ago, and the resulting vehicle went into service about three years later, so it is around 17 years old. the livery is hand painted, designed by a previous Birmingham Artist in residence, and painted by an artist that worked in the coach builders, sadly now closed. Paul himself takes care of maintaining the artwork.
It originally did not have a special title, Paul chose the title Words on Wheels to convey what it was about without mentioning the word "Library". The vehicle was based in the Mobile library depot but the librarian in charge of it was officed in Birmingham central library, at some distance from the vehicle. As she was not qualified to drive the van, each time is was due to go out somewhere she had to organise and agency driver. This did not help the reliability of the service because agency drivers did not look after the vehicle and were not always available to fulfil a booking. It was funded through Urban Aid funding, and had gathered such a poor reputation that when funding had ran out the service was shelved. The vehicle stayed in the council depot for a year or so, until Paul got the post of development librarian and managed to achieve a years funding. It has been going ever since.
The success of the project is due to Paul's efforts, winning various Mobile Library prizes, nationally and internationally, linking with disadvantaged groups, networking and achieving an income for Birmingham city. Schools, pre-school facilities, nurseries, book him in advance and although he is busy each day, does not return to the same venue for many months, perhaps a year. Paul considers that Children's mobile libraries are a tool for delivering literacy, and he is convinced that he does that, but feels he does not have the evidence to prove it, although he has had letters of praise from the children that have experienced his visits. His criterion for measuring success is being asked back.