Monday, 30 July 2012

Going where other libraries cannot reach

This is the second post that reveals one of the "theories" that revealed itself during my research: another unique aspect of children's mobile libraries. Again it is so obvious that I am embarrassed writing it, a mobile library can get to places that a static library can't. Yes, I realise that a static library by the nature of it's name, cannot go anywhere, and therefore the service element of a static library needs mobile people, people who are prepared, eager and able to go out to visit the library. (You can tell I have just done a Phd, I am now all philosophical, pedantic and analytic). A library that can move can reach people who would not, or can not be sufficiently mobile or motivated to get on a bus, or get in a car, or even walk to their nearest library. 

Lack of mobility, difficulty of transport or geographic location are only a few reasons why some children do not visit their local library. Children told me that they didn't like the static library in their town, or their mum wouldn't take them, or it did not have such a wide variety of books ("books that I like"), as the children's mobile library. There is definitely a psychological aspect to the inaccessibility of a library building. Entering a box on wheels is not as foreboding. The static library opening times are also a factor, during the day, children are at school, nursery or play group. The beauty of a CML is that it can hunt down the groups of children where they are, when they are, they go to schools at school time, they go into the streets at home time, or holiday time. Children use CMLs without their parents, sometimes they have the supervision of teachers or other educational staff, but Adults are in the minority, and CMLs that stop in streets attract many unaccompanied children. This means that children can be independent of adults and learn to use a library although their parents do not.

There is a phrase that appears to be used by social scientists to describe a set of people who do not access the services of which they are entitled. These people are termed the "Hard to Reach" people who either choose not to access services or do not know that there 
are services that might help them. For some reason, library services are better dealing with "The hard to reach" than others. I looked at the way that CMLs tried to find those groups.
CMLs visit places of financial disadvantage, as well as some well to do area's, but I found
that  the socio-economic class of the child CML customer is irrelevant.

Family attitudes to reading, books and literacy, negative or positive, cut across socio-economic divides, therefore, the CMLs need to go to all area's to capture the children who's parents are not that bothered about books in the home. I attempted to find the dominant socio-economic or ability group of CML visitors, and I have to say that no specific group of any type dominated the visitors that I met. They were a complete mixture. In that mixture were children who's families certainly encouraged reading, and some children who were so far advanced in their reading skills, in ability and speed, that an ordinarily household would not have been able to hold all the books the child read. Those children certainly benefited from a free, never ending supply of reading matter. At the other end of the scale were children who were afraid of touching books, or did not know how to hold one and turn the pages. These children were gently encouraged to have a go, and  at least gained the experience that books contained words and pictures that were there to convey a message. Two things can be concluded, the CML is of use to children of every ability and, in order to reach the hard to reach, and children of low ability, you have to take the total mixture.

It is rather unfortunate that only a very small percentage of the child population of the UK actually have access to a CML. When I wrote the thesis, about 9 months ago, 16 local authorities of a total of 228 operated 26 children’s mobile libraries in a range of geographic locations. From my current investigations, this has gone down to 12 authorities and 21 vehicles, a sad reflection of the economic climate. However, the CMLs that I know about visit children located anywhere. Not all CMLs go to all the types of location on the following list, for various reasons, but at least one CML go to such places as Schools, Special Schools, Nurseries, Pre-school groups, parks, streets where children live, children's secure units, traveller sites, fair-ground permanent sites, farms, urban areas, rural areas, inner city and city estates. If one CML can visit such locations, then surely others can also. Although CMLs do not visit each child in the UK, they hold the potential to do so. CMLs can reach all children of all abilities. 

The above diagram shows my simple argument. It just needs funding and the will to achieve such a situation.

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