Providing equitable access to information is a critical responsibility of all public libraries, and sometimes the best way to accomplish this is through bringing the library into communities via the bookmobile. Finding ways to provide library services in traditionally under-served communities has always been a core of the mission of bookmobiles.
Do you know there are approximately 647 bookmobiles in service serving library patrons across the United States? (1) Bookmobiles offer a unique service and have come a long way from the first one in 1905 which offered books on a horse-drawn wagon or from Arapahoe Libraries’ 1960’s vehicle, pictured below.
Arapahoe Library District covers roughly 70 miles and serves over 200,000 residents in urban, suburban and rural locations.
The birth of the matrix
In March 2010, Arapahoe Libraries acquired a 34’ full-service bookmobile. With the addition of the bookmobile and our existing outreach van, Arapahoe Libraries was now able to put into place a 2-vehicle service model to extend our outreach into Arapahoe County. Our aim was to increase access to staff, collections, programs and technology for patrons of all ages who did not have easy access to brick and mortar facilities.
But how to determine where to go?
Arapahoe Libraries’ current bookmobile, a 34’ Bluebird
In 2010 foundational work was done by former manager, Donna Walker, and Richard Lyda, Outreach Librarian. They scanned the literature but found little written about determining need for bookmobile services. They drew inspiration from the library’s Request for Proposal matrix format for the purchase of the bookmobile. The library’s vendor scoring chart was a good foundation based on:
- Standard criteria with associated factors for decision-making
- Standard criteria and associated factors would be applied to all sites
- Hard data would be used when available
- Anecdotal data would be kept to a minimum
Using a matrix for developing bookmobile stops based on hard data as evidence of need would add credibility to this service concept as well as better determine staffing.
They developed the following criteria with subsets:
- Residential designation
- Developmental designation
- Number of residents
- Presence of children
- Distance from an Arapahoe Library branch
- Access to transportation
- Limited information literacy
- New Americans
- Developmental and physical impairment
- Free & reduced lunch
- Rent-controlled section 8 or low income
A multi-family unit ranks high as does limited access to transportation. Each criteria has its own set of parameters to determine its rank of 0, 1 or 2. Each subset criteria was given a weight. For instance, residential designation and developmental density are weighted at 20% but the presence of children is 40%. All of the sub-criteria are weighted with a 5 factor. Now the math comes into play. Each rank is multiplied by the weight and by the factor to determine a final score for each sub-criterion. The higher the total number, the higher the need. In this manner, potential bookmobile stops could be rated more objectively rather than subjectively. It also created a needs-based schedule and takes into account the diversity of the neighborhoods.
The new schedule began providing bookmobile stops in apartment complexes in our service areas in Arapahoe County. Today we have nine stops we visit biweekly from 2:00 p.m. to 6:00 p.m. We typically staff with 2 people as our minimum and increase to 3 when there is a program at the stop.
With the new bookmobile, Arapahoe Libraries increased its number of monthly stops from 8 to 12 and number of hours spent at the stops from 16.25 to 109 hours. The number of library cards issued showed a 102% increase.
Our Programming Department regularly provides programs and presenters at these stops and we hold storytimes during the warmer months outdoors. Our technology, such as Dash and Sphero robots, have made appearances at the stops to engage both the young and old.
The bookmobile is outfitted with 2 laptops and 3 ipads for patron use and provides free WiFi for patrons.
Almost 10 years later, the matrix continues to hold up well with minor changes to criteria to better determine when to discontinue a stop.
We have also learned that apartment complex management can support the success of a stop and, conversely, contribute towards staff working harder to make the stop successful. At our most successful stops, we can use the complex community or meeting room to hold programming and have access to an easily visible parking space.
The Arapahoe Library matrix has held up well and provided the framework for service delivery to patrons in Arapahoe County. Please visit our website for more information or email us; we are happy to answer questions.