Modernizing the old bookmobile in Catawaba County, NC (S1E4)

When the people couldn’t get to the library, or worse, didn’t have a library, the librarians in Catawaba County, North Carolina came up with a solution. They packed the books into a van, loaded it with new electronics, a couch and a few chairs and they drove to the folks who needed it most.

Transcript of Modernizing the old bookmobile (S1E4)

David: This is a good government show.

Greta Caldwell: We bring out tables and books and chairs, and we create a whole library space when we go out to different places.

Carol: She’s talking about a pop up library, and that’s the topic of this edition of the good government show. It’s a library to go in Catawba County, North Carolina. I’m Carol D’auria.

David: And I’m David Martin, and this is the good government show. So Carol, the library go, isn’t this just really a modern version of the old bookmobile?

Carol: Well, you know, it is like the bookmobile, but it’s a whole lot more than that. It’s the 21st century bookmobile. I spoke to Siobhan Loendorf that Catawba County Library director, and here’s how she described it.

Siobhan Loendorf: We wanted to make sure that when the library to go set up somewhere, that it was a full service library. So on the library to go, it has ten laptop computers so Greta could do a computer class. She could do let somebody use a computer to do a job search or resumes. It has a 3-D printer. Robotics several different types of robotics actually. Play Away Audio books. Which are you familiar with? Play audio books? No, I’m not. So Play Away is a it’s like an MP3 player. It’s fully enclosed. It comes with a battery and then we provide earbuds so someone could take that play away. They don’t need to have a CD player or a Walkman or anything. They just plug in to this thing and they can listen to the book on audio right there.

We invested in a lot of play ways and a lot of play book kits because we know that for ESL learners or for people that have trouble learning to read, listening to audiobooks and following along with the actual text print copy really helps them. And so that was a strategy that we wanted to use. So we’ve loaded up the van with things like that… comfortable furniture.

Carol: But you take it outside the van when you…

Greta Caldwell: Absolutely.

Siobhan Loendorf: You unload it and you set up like a mini living room. We have a little outdoor carpet, we have chairs, a living room table. And then we set up all the book carts around it so that it looks like you’re at an outdoor library. And this is if you’re at an outdoor location. Like we mentioned, Greta goes to schools and she’ll set this up in an extra classroom or in a big hallway in the cafeteria.

David: So it’s a pop up library. So could I get the pop up library van to show up in my house?

Carol: You sure could, as long as you invite a bunch of your friends, and maybe you should move Catawaba County, North Carolina.

David: But I would do the library card too, right?

Carol: This is true in any county can have a library to go, David. And in this case, Greta Caldwell is the outreach services librarian. She drives the van and brings the library to the people.

Greta Caldwell: We go wherever we’re needed so schools, kids can’t drive nursing homes. You know, some of our seniors can’t drive and get out. one of my favorite places to go has been a local nursing home. It’s as… I push out a cart I get our activities together. I go in and I set up in their dining room and we do activities together just to keep their mind sharp now. They don’t want me to read to them often, but we do the word games and we do the crosswords, and we just have fun doing trivia and bingo, sometimes those kind of things. So I get to know them in this group setting in the dining hall. And then I take my card around to each room throughout their nursing home and say, Hey, would you like to check out a book? How are you today? That kind of thing. And I can say that in 2019, when I was doing that, it was wonderful and I made a good number of friends going to the rooms.

Carol: And one of the nursing home she visits with the library then is the Conover Nursing and Rehabilitation facility. An Amber Case is the activities director.

Amber Case: She would actually set up and come in and do an activity with my seniors once a month. So and that would introduce us to the library to go. She would bring in new books and then from there by residents to make any kind of suggestions about books they’d like to see or activities she would like them to do with them. She brings us DVDs for people who do not have cable, but they do have the option to be able to watch movies. So she’s able to bring us the large print books for those who are having trouble reading, and she’s also got books on tape, which helps out a lot.

David: Do they still do like the storytime for kids that was always popular in the library?

Carol: They do, actually. In fact, that’s a mother’s dream or even a father’s dream when he’s doing Kid Duty. Moms get a break while the kids learn to love books. I spoke with Allison Martin.

David: That’s no relation, by the way, Allison. I don’t know her.

Carol: She’s the mother of an eight year old and a six year old, and she homeschools them. So this was right up her alley.

Allison Martin: I saw the library to go out and about at some places we had been before, like a local baseball game, and sometimes they were out at local parades, but I had never really used them prior to sort of seeing them out in the community. And then I saw on their newsletter that they were going to start having a story time involved with it at a local church. That’s just. On the road from us, and I thought we’ll go try that out, and we’ve done this story time at the library for years. And it’s, you know, it’s fun and it’s entertaining, but it was something interesting to go somewhere other than a library to receive a story time. And then once we went the first time, then we started inviting friends to come with us or to meet us there.

So every time they offered it at that church, we would try to go because it had been such a fun experience. Greta, in particular, is really good at teaching kids how to interact with books, not just her reading to them or them reading it to themselves, but different kinds of ways you can interact with books and being a homeschool mom. Literacy is really, really, really important to me. So watching her do that would give me lots of ideas to then bring back home and do with them as well. But it also was a fun break for me to see how other people approach books or creative ways that they would teach children how to interact with them other than just the standard here. Let’s read this together.

David: So my daughter love story time and she loved going to the library. She always came out with an armload of books.

Carol: And that was the case with my kids and with Alison’s kids.

Allison Martin: Every Thursday that they offered story time. My kids already knew ahead of time that that was the week we were going to library to go. So they were very excited. They always look forward to seeing Greta, and at the time she had a an assistant named Mary Lou, and they enjoyed seeing her too. We knew Thursday was library day and that meant library to go. So they did, really. I look forward to that. It was around maybe an hour and a half by the time she read, and then we did a craft or some kind of related themed activity tied into the book that she read. And then we would have time to check out books or talk to her about what would be a good book for this or that. And and sometimes we just stayed and chatted because we did get to know Greta pretty well and we really enjoyed her.

So she set it up like a mini version of the library within the Fellowship Hall of the Church, and she had a craft area and an area to sort of check out the books. But then she had gone through and curated sort of a little mini library for us to kind of peruse through like a children’s section, an adult section. And then once she got to know us, I noticed a lot of the books started being kind of tailored, so more of what we would talk to her about. So that was really fun for my kids to walk in and say, Oh, we just talked to her last week about orangutans or something.

And she has three books there about that. And now I can read more about something I’m already interested in. So that was really fun. Felt like VIP at the library. She definitely got to know us on a personal level and even friends that we would invite. She would ask them some questions, you know, just in conversation to learn more about them. And she would say, You know, next time I see you, maybe I’ll have some books about this. So that was kind of neat to especially be able to invite other people to go with us or meet us there. And they would have the same kind of interactions with her and and with the books being tailored towards their interests and things.

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Carol: Did you have a favorite librarian when you were a kid, David?

David: I did because I loved go to the library. I like to read, I always read the encyclopedias. Yes, I remember a middle school of my library and there are, points out, lots of cool stuff for me to read.

Carol: Yeah, and that stays with you your whole life. Well, in kind of, well, the county Greta, the librarian she really prides herself in not only giving out books, but she actually develops relationships with the patrons, and she became one little boy’s favorite librarian.

Greta Caldwell: I love going to schools simply because there was one particular one that I just I love the story so much. I get to go into schools and I set up we do story time together, we do activities together and the kids and I kind of get to really know each other pretty well. And there is this one little boy who was always shy and he had had me move from this school, from his old school because he was having some difficulties learning. And so he was here just to get that extra support he needed.

So at his old school, it was very difficult for him to go into the library. There’s too many choices, there’s too much going on. All that stuff was, you know, it was just overwhelming for him. So we got to know each other. And one day he was picking out books and his teacher said, Do you realize like, this is the first time he’s actually picked out a book from the library? And I just like, I had to stop for a second right there and just be like, Whoa.

So he got this experience because it’s a smaller venue. There’s less kids around, there’s less choices. He wasn’t as overwhelmed. He got to come and pick out books and read and something that he’d never gotten to do before. Just because, you know, we were able to go out to where he was and connect with him in that space.

David: So the library he go shows up at nursing homes, churches and schools. Are there no libraries and all the places where they go?

Carol: No, they really don’t. And that was the problem. Catawaba County is in North Carolina and it’s a rural place. But they did have a strategic plan, and one of its goals was to raise awareness about the library. They realized that the people who needed the library in the most were in the rural areas without good transportation.

David: So the answer, I guess, was, you know, instead of getting people to the library, bring the library to the people. And I guess they’re going out in places that were vastly under-served by library services.

Carol: That’s right. That’s right. So they created, in essence, a full library on wheels. It’s not just books, but they provide full reading programs, computers. They’ll help people fill out job applications. They provide all kinds of things and they get really creative. They bring the library to go to baseball games, parades, outdoor markets, just name it.

David: So they stop watching a baseball game and pick up a book because what they do.

Carol: They do.

David: Well, it’s too bad they don’t have a little, you know, Starbucks little coffee shop.

Carol: And that would be nice. But the librarian in her van teamed up in one case with a local soup kitchen called the Corner Table, and the woman who runs the corner table is Summer Jenkins.

Summer Jenkins: If you ever came into our soup kitchen facility, the space is not that large. And one of the issues in our county is transportation. So we’ve always been looking for ways of how we can feed more people and reach more people that can’t reach us. So the only way to do that is to go out in the community. So besides having a meal, we wanted to do something more so when they came to eat, we wanted them to get more out of just coming to get food, and then that’s where the library came in.

So we kind of use the meal was like a carrot to just get on there and then library to go, bring some additional information and stuff they may not have access to on a regular basis. And they just made a really good partnership because, like Brenda had mentioned, they got their bellies full and they got to feel their mom. So it was an awesome partnership, but something we’re going to continue to do.

Carol: So where, for instance, would you do that with the truck and the corner table?

Summer Jenkins: So we when we first started, we identified an area that we knew that we could have access to, that we would be able to set up. And it was near a neighborhood that we knew had a lot of kids in it. We knew there was a lot of families in that neighborhood that maybe they only had one vehicle and maybe the dad worked. So we knew the mom was probably home with the children. And there’s no buster out there, so we knew they weren’t jumping on a bus to come to our soup kitchen.

So we identified the locations and then, of course, set up there and advertised that we were going to be there. We had banners on the fence of the location, but we are trying to identify locations throughout the county that would benefit from something like this as well.

David: So with what you’re saying, this is a van. They have books, they have computers, they have chairs. This must cost a lot to fill up the tank. I mean, how do they pay for all this?

Carol: Well, Catawaba County pays the bill. Siohban Loendorf of the county’s library director explained that they just went to them hand in hand, and they said, please.

Siohban Loendorf: The Institute of Museum and Library Services. Does a Library Services and Technology Act grant program through the State Library of North Carolina. So we did a two year project grant where we purchased the van and hired the staffing, and we used those two years to validate the impact to the community. And then we took that proven impact to our county board of commissioners and said, Here’s what we’ve done. Can you continue to fund it? And they saw the impact and they funded it. So it’s now funded by the county.

Carol: Do you know how much it costs?

Siohban Loendorf: The original… the van originally was about $110,000 fully equipped. And what I like to tell people is that prior to getting the van, the librarian to go was loading up her car with crates of books and going to places. So this level of outreach you can you can go set up a pop up library at a smaller scale with a lot less. You don’t have to have the big fancy van. You could get just a box truck and you know, and drive around like that. But the important thing is the dedication of the librarian to get out there and connect with people and get those resources out to places that need them.

Carol: And so kind Catawaba county picks up the tab and the people who really need the library, the people who need the books and the help the most can enjoy it free of charge.

David: Free books always the best part of going to the library, getting your books for free and these books they got in the hands of the people who really, really needed them. So this is just another case where government stepped in, solve the problem and fix the problem.

Carol: And you got that right? I’m Carol D’auria.

David: And I’m Dave Martin. Thanks for joining us on the good government show. We’ll see you next time. The Good Government Show is a Valley Park Production, Jason Stershic is our editor and producer. Associate producers are Jade Ludlow and Mackenzie Martin, the executive producers of The Good Government Show are Jim Ludlow, David Martin and David Snyder. Join us again right here for another episode of The Good Government Show.