Library Bookmobile offers “Sweet Reads” to the community
For over 50 years, the Boyle County Public Library’s Outreach department has been serving patrons in Danville-Boyle County via the bookmobile and, more recently, the outreach van by making regular visits to a variety of locations including schools, day cares, senior centers, nursing homes, assisted living facilities, homebound patrons, county locations, and apartment complexes.
This summer the library rolled out a new service for the community called “Sweet Reads.” Available through the Lottie Ellis Bookmobile, Sweet Reads is a collection of new and used library materials that can be checked out without a library card. This program is an effort to remove any barriers from children and families being able to have library books in their homes.
The need for the worry-free program became apparent when library staff noticed that some parents were reluctant to get a library card for their children due to concern that the children would not take proper care of the books and they would then have to pay to replace the borrowed items. Since many of the areas that the outreach team serves are on fixed incomes, most would not have extra money to replace lost or damaged books.
In the past, families and children who didn’t have a library card would be unable to check out library materials from the bookmobile. For those patrons, outreach librarians would instead offer a crate of free, uncatalogued books for the children to choose from. The collection, however, was limited and only insured that the children did not go away empty handed. Outreach staff knew that they needed to come up with a better way to meet this need.
Outreach Services Librarian Jana Oliver grew up loving the bookmobile and was determined to find a way to make it more accessible to more people. She discussed her concerns with Assistant Library Director Colleen Hall, who joined the library staff in 2020. Hall had experience working with outreach services and, more specifically, with a Sweet Reads program in another library system. Once it was decided to use that program as a model, Oliver and Hall then went to work transforming the bookmobile into their own version of Sweet Reads.
The Sweet Reads program is more robust than a crate of books, and it offers a greater selection of materials for patrons to choose from. How it works is simple. When patrons are invited to choose books from the Sweet Reads collection, outreach staff track the books by logging the first name of the patron on an individual chart along with the number of books that they are borrowing. Staff record the number of items returned and the number taken. The books all belong to the Sweet Reads program and are not tied to the library system, so there is no worry about potential fines if an item is not able to be returned. If a child falls in love with a particular title and it doesn’t make its way back to the bookmobile, they will be allowed to keep it permanently while continuing to check out other materials.
According to the Danville-Boyle Early Childhood Alliance, Boyle County is considered a childcare desert. Because of this, many children in our community do not have access to early literacy opportunities. Additionally, 52.4% of children in Boyle County are not classified as “ready” for kindergarten. The library seeks to help bridge this gap in the community by utilizing new methods that allow families to participate in library services without fear or anxiety. The Sweet Reads program is one such method.
During Summer Reading 2021, children who were repeat Sweet Reads patrons were also given a reward for bringing back materials. “This summer has been a test run to see if our concept would be viable and accomplish our goal of encouraging parents to allow their children to get books that did not require a library card,” said Oliver. “It would allow parents to see if their children would be responsible and active in returning the books they chose in exchange for new ones the following week.”
The process of developing a new collection for the bookmobile was labor intensive. First, all of the books were removed from the vehicle. Then, one side of the bookmobile was restocked with materials that are currently logged into the library catalog and require a library card for check out. The other half of the bookmobile was reserved for the Sweet Reads collection. It was stocked with gently used books that had been removed from the library’s collection, as well as with new books that were purchased through funds provided by the Friends of the Library. In addition, money that had been donated specifically to the Outreach Program from loyal patrons of Outreach was also used to purchase new books. “We wanted the children to see that we were not just giving them second hand books, but they would be able to get new books, as well,” said Oliver.
The Sweet Reads collection contains books for all ages, including board books, picture books, chapter books, young adult and adult fiction, and a small selection of non-fiction. “If we do not have what you want, we will write it down and try to have it for you the following week,” said Oliver.
This summer, the bookmobile has gone to select locations on a weekly basis so that the parents and children would develop of habit of returning their Sweet Reads books and then taking new selections to keep for the week. “Extra incentives, such as stickers, bookmarks, and candy, are a sweet reward for coming back,” said Oliver. “This idea of borrowing and returning materials without strings attached will hopefully lead to them signing up for an library card to be used not only for the bookmobile library collection, but for the entire library collection, as well.”
As part of the summer rollout, outreach staff visited two summer day camp programs weekly in June and July where the day campers would board the bookmobile to select a book each week. Preschoolers coming onto the bookmobile at day camp would often tell the outreach staff how much they loved the bookmobile. One parent upon finding out that a card was not needed said, “I am so happy for my little boy to have this program!” Oliver shared that while waiting for people to come to the bookmobile stops, she and summer intern Kelsey Sharp were often seen reading their own books. Some of the children asked ‘You read books too?’ “At one place we go, there are often several children waiting under the tree with their books,” said Oliver. “They all start waving as soon as they see us headed their way.”
“It is a wonderful thing to see the children who do love coming to the Bookmobile,” continued Oliver. “We can’t guarantee that we will have exactly the book they are looking for, but we’ll be very excited to see them and they will always be greeted with excitement and a smile!”
Community response to the new program has been very positive. In the month of June the bookmobile had 324 patrons come on board, and 466 Sweet Reads items were borrowed with a very good return rate. The usage numbers for July are on a similar track. As the kids head back to school, Outreach staff would like to see more families utilize the bookmobile and the services it offers. “Our intention is to create a stress-free ‘onboard ramp’ to help families embrace the idea of library lending,” says Hall. “We hope that these families will eventually feel comfortable getting a library card and using the regular library collection. The power of children selecting their own books should not be underestimated in the formation of new and enthusiastic readers.”
Patrons can find the bookmobile in Perryville, Junction City, and at numerous locations in Danville. Once finalized, the fall schedule will be posted online at BoylePubLib.org/outreach. Information about all of the services offered through the outreach department, including the Sweet Reads program, can be found on the website or by calling the library at (859) 238-7323.
The Boyle County Public Library serves the city of Danville and the surrounding communities, and is actively committed to enriching the lives of its patrons. The library is open Monday-Friday, 9:30 a.m. – 5:30 p.m. and Saturdays from 10 a.m.– 5p.m. In addition, free WiFi is available in the library parking lot 24/7. Chat with library staff using the live chat service on the library’s website or by texting (859) 545-8398. The library is located at 307 West Broadway in Danville, KY.