The first library I remember going to was actually a bookmobile. I was not in a rural area, but I was in a sort of no-man’s-land when it came to library branches. My working, single mother had a car, but not always one that ran reliably, nor could she always afford gas for unnecessary trips. Meanwhile, I was such a voracious reader that even if we had more discretionary income, buying me enough books to keep me sated would have cost a small fortune. Needless to say, I have very warm memories of the large van full of books that would make its weekly stop in the parking lot of my elementary school. It was like magic.
There are some who would argue that in this day and age, when more people are mobile and the Internet is “everywhere,” that bookmobiles and outreach services have seen their day. However, as we’ve noted before, whendiscussing issues of Digital Equity, the Internet is most certainlynot everywhere. I don’t imagine that the child I was, transported to 2016, would have Internet in her home any more than she had the budget for books and trips to the library. Meanwhile, in rural areas, which often lack libraries, there is also commonly a lack of broadband.
Many types of communitieslack the means to access the library: be it because of income,age,health, and oftenimmigrantstatus. Meanwhile, our industry is not alone in banging the drum about serving people where they are, instead of making people come to you. Just look at the successes that services such asAmazon Prime NowandGoogle Expressare seeing. People want things to come to them. Outreach matters. It makes a difference.
And even Mary Lemist Titcomb, whodreamed up the idea of a horse-drawn libraryin America over 110 years ago (and thus is credited with founding the bookmobile in the US), understood the bookmobile’s potential for raising the profile of the library’s presence in the community: “Would not a Library Wagon, the outward and visible signs of the service for which the Library stood, do much more in cementing friendship?” she wondered. It’s great advertising and builds wonderful goodwill.
So can we replace outreach with the Internet? Sure, the Web is widespread, but even Google itself seems to understand it is no replacement for outreach vehicles. In 2006, theyfunded the Mountain View bookmobileand paid to keep it going in 2014. And if Google knows it is important, then who are we to argue?