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21st Century Bookmobiles @ Your Library

Column #15, May 2007

Bookmobiles Abound:
Report on New Zealand and Washington, DC

By Jan Meadows, Bookmobile Supervisor, Pikes Peak (CO) Library District

Somebody please tell me how time gets away so quickly! I am sure part of the reason is that there is so much going on in the bookmobile and library outreach fields these days that it is hard to keep on top of it all. But that is a good thing, right? It means you all are making a difference in the library world while making a difference in the world of so many patrons.

In January 2007 I attended the awesome New Zealand Mobile Libraries Conference. I have been trying to think of words to describe what a great conference it was and how beautiful New Zealand and its people are, but I keep coming up woefully short.

The conference was held in the middle of the gorgeous, green North Island at the Wairakei Resort in Taupo. Cathie Richards, Mobile Librarian, North Shore Libraries, and conference organizer, did not miss a single detail in preparing a well-rounded, informative and fun conference. There were speakers from Australia, the United Kingdom, the United States and New Zealand. There were also two attendees from Singapore.

Topics covered all aspects of outreach services including:

  • Occupational Health and Safety Guidelines for Mobile Services,
  • How a Library-wide Floating Collection can work for Mobile Services,
  • Services to the Aged and Housebound,
  • Mobile Libraries Online,
  • 101 Things You Need to Know about Mobile Library Service and
  • Keeping Bookmobiles Alive.

There were two very interesting and entertaining sessions: Mobile Libraries Around the World and the History of Mobile Libraries In New Zealand. Lastly, there were two sessions regarding the Australian Innovations in Public Library Mobile Services and a report on a Study of Mobile Librarians and the issues of their employment. Every session was excellent.

There is no way I can impart here, in this space, all the knowledge that the conference goers were able to gather. I can say that I was so very impressed with the Australian and New Zealand bookmobiles (or "mobiles," as the say). They are so innovative in their designs! Some of the Australian mobile units have “pods” (what we would call pull-outs on RVs) which make them as big as a building when they are all set up. The NZ Mobiles on display at the conference were so open and airy, eventhough they were the same width and length as our U.S. bookmobiles. I couldn’t figure out how they did that. Truly inspiring! I also found it very interesting that they had done the study of mobile services and developed the OHS guidelines specific to mobile library service. I learned something new from every speaker….now that is a good conference when you can say that! Find more on the conference web site--take a peek!

The conference was not only informative and educational…it was fun. Cathie arranged a Jet Boat ride down a beautiful river as one of the activities. You haven’t lived until you have taken a 50 mph ride down a river and then have the driver do a 360-degree spin! A hike through a thermal field followed that.

Another evening we had a wonderful dinner at a vineyard with actors portraying the “Fawlty Towers” cast (John Cleese was in the original show). If you aren’t familiar with that TV show don’t feel alone, I had no clue what was going on for the first twenty minutes, but it was a zany evening that I will never forget. I can’t remember when I have laughed so long and so much. It was a hoot!…and the dinner was fabulous.

Another smart thing Cathie arranged was for each session to be recorded on CD. What a great service this was. You were able to take the entire presentation home with you instead of hastily scribbled notes. In fact, I told Cathie she should make a career out of conference organizing….she is a natural at it! Thank you, Cathie, for inviting me to take part in this excellent conference and thanks to all the NZ folks for their generous hospitality. I made some wonderful friends as a bonus!

ABOS October Conference

Lastly, the really good news is that the Association of Bookmobile and Outreach Services (ABOS) Conference in St. Louis, MO, October 3–5, 2007 will have three of the speakers from the New Zealand conference presenting programs. How terrific is that?

Annual 2007: Year of the Bookmobile

Mobile Outreach: Access at its Best is an exciting program put together by OLOS and the Bookmobile Subcommittee on Sunday, June 24, 2007 from 10:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. You really don’t want to miss this! The general session is comprised of four dynamic library administrators sharing their experience with and commitment to mobile service, which is followed by a free lunch generously sponsored by Matthews Specialty Vehicles of Greensboro, N.C. Four practical workshops presented by topic experts follow lunch. Topics include: marketing, collection management, risk management and vehicle purchasing.

And as if that isn’t enough, there will be a Bookmobile Rally on Tuesday, June 26, showcasing mobile outreach to members of Congress! And….the OLOS Diversity & Outreach Fair is focused on bookmobile service this year, so register and promote your mobile service.

Yes, people, it is the Year of the Bookmobile at ALA. Join in and shine with your counterparts from across the nation!

See what I mean? There is so much going on in our outreach world! Isn’t it marvelous? I am just in awe of all that you do out there and I love to hear your individual stories. Also, in my next column I would like to talk about Mobile Library Service vs. Bookmobiles. How do you feel about the movement to change the service name? Please feel free to contact me at

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bookmobile, service, outreach, rural, remote, distance