Bright Ideas | May 2024

Dispensing Books at One Children’s Hospital

Book vending machine being demonstrated by a user

“Cure sometimes, treat often and comfort always.” ― Hippocrates

To “comfort always” is a noble endeavor! And the Las Vegas-Clark County Library District’s latest outreach resource supports just that work. Earlier this year, the Library at Sunrise Children’s Hospital opened. But if you’re picturing a brick-and-mortar library on a hospital campus, stop there. This library is a user-friendly book vending machine, dispensing English and Spanish language books to kids, teens, and adults. (Photo credit: Las Vegas-Clark County Library District)

The colorful machine is easy to spot near the hospital entrance and carries 235 books. Library cardholders, following easy instructions available in English and Spanish, may check out books for a 21-day period, and books may be returned to the vending machine or to any branch library.

“This new remote library at Sunrise Children’s Hospital is part of our mission to bring the power of our libraries directly to the people,” said Kelvin Watson, executive director of the Las Vegas-Clark County Library District. “Access to technology is a basic human right, and this new book vending machine is an example of how we are using technology to bring the library to the underserved in our community. We hope that access to great stories will be comforting to the children who are hospitalized and their parents and caregivers, as well as Sunrise staff.”

A good book IS good medicine!

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Depositing Joy in Underserved Communities

KPL Family Night: Superheroes box with face mask, red streamers, toilet paper roll for wrist cuffs

As librarians, we are always thinking outside the walls of the buildings we work in. We understand that many in our communities experience physical and social barriers to access. But it can be tricky to find a way to reach them and provide the level of service patrons experience in a branch location. Youth experiencing homelessness are particularly vulnerable and library services are especially impactful for them. But how do we reach them? We tried bookmobile stops and outreach storytimes, but found that clients in the shelter would not necessarily be available in the times we had prearranged. We weren’t having quite the impact we were hoping for. Then COVID hit which put a pause on outreach visits entirely (as well as in-house library programs) and our Kenosha Public Library Family Night To-Go boxes were born. (Photo credit: Kenosha Public Library)

Each week, staff developed themed programs-in-a-box tailored to meet the developmental and creative needs of youth and their families. Each box provided families with everything they needed to spend a few hours together learning and exploring. Some boxes were centered on fandoms, including a K-Pop Party with samples of Korean snacks. A Magic Treehouse themed box included a packet of Oreos so children could create the phases of the moon, a DIY rain stick, and papyrus bookmarks they could write hieroglyphics on, just like the Egyptians. Other boxes focused on science and nature, including a bird-watching box and one about the human brain. It was also important to bring the community together even as we were apart, so one of our boxes was Kenosha themed. We made a 3-D circuit lighthouse modeled after one of our lighthouses in Kenosha and partnered with the Kenosha Public Museum, who provided a mammoth bone excavation and construction activity. We also provided a list of places around Kenosha that families could check out (and learn a little Kenosha history!).

Though the library eventually returned to in-person programming, it remained difficult to pinpoint an outreach program model that worked for our local emergency family shelters. In September 2022, we partnered with those shelters to bring the wildly popular KPL Family Night boxes to their residents. Each month we prep 12 of these program boxes and deliver them to the shelters. Sometimes the shelters will have all the clients staying complete the boxes together in a family night program. Other times, families complete the boxes on their own time. This flexibility has made all the difference–no matter the client’s work or school schedule, they can still participate. This has been incredibly successful. Staff at the shelters have expressed how much joy the boxes bring to families during a very difficult time. Surveys distributed to clients indicated that the families are learning new things together and feel the time spent completing these boxes are a bonding experience.

While the boxes have proven to be an extremely effective way to bring library programming to the library, we still didn’t have a great way to bring books to families. Enter: a deposit collection. Through the generosity of Candlewick Press and ALSC’s Light the Way Grant, we were able to create a deposit collection of popular and diverse books for birth to 14. We were also able to purchase educational toys and games for this collection, mirroring our popular Developmental Toy and Library of Things collections, located in the branches. We surveyed clients and staff of both shelters to learn more about their interests and familiarity with the library. Using this survey data, as well as circulation information from our branch locations, we curated a diverse and popular collection of items for families with children up to 14 years of age. We purchased bilingual books and games, board books, picture books and novels. We included books about potty training and puberty. Tweens are able to enjoy the popular “Five Nights at Freddy’s” series as well as Disney tie-in novels. We purchased a Dog Man book as well as a literacy game based on the series, in hopes it will entice young fans of the crime-fighting pup. Toys and games include ASL and Spanish language materials to support our client survey responses. Each shelter has the same collection of books and toys. Throughout September and October, teen space patrons placed a sticker acknowledging the grant sponsors inside each book.

Along with the deposit collection, we created a handout with Family Literacy tips for different age groups. This simple, eye-catching flier includes easy-to-implement ideas for parents to help build good reading habits with their children. Additional handouts are available in brochure holders on top of the shelves, including information on each branch, how to get a library card, comment cards, and the latest edition of our triannual programming schedule. These are refreshed as needed by library staff when monthly program boxes are delivered. Each collection also has a sign announcing the collection was made possible through the generosity of ALSC and Candlewick Press. These signs are laminated and attached to the shelves in a prominent location.

In the first month of the collection’s availability, there were over 700 usages of the toys, games and books total at Shalom and WCH. Over 41 children alone were served at WCH in the month of November. In 2021, 93 children were served over the entire year. We’ve served almost half that number in just one month. The need for this project is perhaps quite larger than we initially realized and our impact is as well. This usage is higher than two of our four branches for the same time period–thus underscoring the importance of meeting people where they are and removing physical and social barriers to library access.—Megan Nigh, Teen Services Librarian, Kenosha (WI) Public Library

Editor’s Note: For those attending the ALA Annual Conference, don’t miss Megan Nigh’s program, “Depositing Joy: Programming and Services for Families Experiencing Homelessness,” Sunday, June 30, 2024,11:00 am - 12:00 pm, to learn more about Kenosha Public Library’s outreach program for families experiencing homelessness.

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