Well, the thesis is currently in University waiting for my supervisor to read and tell me what is wrong about it! My journey, I hope, is almost over, although I will write up more about my findings once the PhD has been passed. I particularly enjoyed doing the field work and feel very privileged to have met some interesting people with stories to tell about their experiences of children's mobile libraries. I was welcomed at each vehicle that I visited and I was quite enchanted by the actions of many of the children, I feel I saw some special moments in children's lives. More about that another time.
Overall, I found out that children's mobile libraries (CMLs) do pass on a love of books and reading to children, but not in the way that I thought they would. I thought that children's mobile library staff (I have been calling them operators) would need to have an in depth knowledge of literacy and working with children, and each vehicle would have to have lots of story times and active teaching, but that is far from the case. If you are a CML operator, you will scoff at me, you will say that you knew you were helping children's literacy and changing children's lives. Yes, many of you did tell me that. I can now prove that you do.
Children's mobile libraries work because they are a vehicle that comes and disappears again. that makes children (and staff) excited, which opens the brain to learning experiences. On the vehicle, there are books, books and more books, or posters about books, or toys of book characters, or recordings of books, or someone reading a book to you, with the occasional computer for children to play with. Basically, once you have entered the realm of a CML you cannot escape from words. This space of words is controlled by the operators, who tease you, cajole you, ask you about the book you have picked up, wants to know if you enjoyed a story, they make friends with you and talk about books. They let you choose what ever book you want, perhaps with a quick check in case you get in trouble at home for choosing a certain subject. Operators help children being literate by being enthusiastic and encouraging, not by being pedantic and disparaging. Children's mobile libraries work because they are fun ... and children like them.
I will leave this post with two photo's, a before and an after. The before, on the left, is a Children's Mobile Library. The after, on the right, is what it has become. I am sad about such a wasted opportunity.