Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Going Mobile

Pictured above is most of my new teen mobile collection, built thanks to the generous support of the Family Dollar/YALSA grant I won for the summer. I've been asked a lot about it, and I thought I'd give the run down of the whys and hows of going mobile.

How it started

One of the challenges of our community is that, despite being fairly small, we are spread out. We serve hundreds of square miles of farm land, and we live in a county where there is no public transportation. Despite our library's fairly favorable location in downtown and about a mile from the schools, no location is ideal in a rural setting.

That got me thinking about teen participation in the library. Many teens can walk over after school for programs, but what about teens during the summer? Then I started wondering why I couldn't make the effort to serve the kids and do it where they were: the school. Summer school here is one month long, Monday through Thursday, and every kid who attends also receives a free lunch.

And here, I thought, was an opportunity I couldn't pass up. I could go over to the lunch room for an hour once or twice a week, bring a selection of books, and bring all of the necessary summer reading club materials, and then I could get the teens involved in the program without them needing to trek to the physical library building. Moreover, I knew this would be an opportunity to get to know the teens in my area a bit more and it would be a chance to gauge what kinds of books my teens were reading. Since my teen collection is upstairs and my office and the desk I work at are downstairs, it's not always easy to know what is moving.


Admittedly, I didn't go about this in the most logical way. The logical manner would have been getting in touch with the school prior to applying for the grant to set this collection up. The challenge to that, of course, is what happens if the grant doesn't get approved. I knew I didn't have the budget to fund this myself (at least, I didn't think I did -- more on that in a minute), so my plan depended upon the grant.

When I found out I got the money, that's when I got in touch with the school's summer school coordinator, as well as the school librarian. We met to talk about the logistics of the collection. I had envisioned buying a selection of new books and having the kids check them out with their library cards, but after this meeting, I changed my plans, and I think I did so for the better.

Some of the considerations that needed to be talked about included the check out process -- did the kids need their library cards? It seemed like a hindrance, since many kids don't have cards for the precise reason I mentioned before: transportation. Then there's the issue of fines: how do you charge for late or lost materials? That could get the parents involved and get tricky. Then there's the issue of storage and transport. That was the easiest to tackle.

After that meeting, I brainstormed and came up with a plan of attack: I'd buy only paperback books, teens could check out books with their library card, school ID, or simply their name and phone number, and because I was doing a paperback collection, I wasn't going to charge overdue or lost fees. Of course, I wouldn't tell the kids that. I just gave them a due date (the last day of summer school) and it would be taking my chances. I was lent a book truck from the school library and given space in the administrative offices to park it. Easy enough!

Purchasing and Organizing

Creating my collection was actually very easy. I've done a ton of book talking this year, and I had a good sense of the kinds of books my kids were interested in. So naturally, those were first picks. Following those, I decided to really focus on titles that the kids wouldn't get quick access to elsewhere: popular teen fiction written in Spanish and a selection of titles with appeal to reluctant readers. When I budgeted for the collection, I gave myself about $600 to play with. I believe I ended up spending about $550 and came away with over 80 books -- keeping in mind that Spanish books are almost twice the cost of English editions of the same work, I thought that money stretched quite well. I also pulled a few personal copies of extra paperbacks I had at home since I knew they'd go to good use here.

As books rolled into the library, I pulled my copies from the tech room. I didn't know how I wanted to mark them, but after thinking about how I'd use the collection after this summer, I figured I should follow our standard marking procedure. Barcodes and stamps were attached, but I did not include spine labels. I wanted to make this a true browsing collection, and since that step is a quick and easy one, it could be saved for later, when we included these titles in our general collection post-summer.

Since I didn't want to add these books to my library's standard catalog because of the set up of the program, I went about organizing the books through LibraryThing. I kept it quite simple, and I included a private field in my login side for me to include the names of the kids who checked out the title (along with their phone number and a record of how many times a particular title checked out). You can see my entire library collection by going here, and then toggle the library collection on the top left to "Teen Mobile Collection."

Preparing For Day One

I knew I'd have a cart available to me, but everything else I knew was on my own. I made two signs to post on the book cart and brought an acrylic holder to include a third. They all were simple, explaining that these books were from my library and anyone could check them out. And oh, here's a chance to sign up for the summer reading club. I emphasized that since the kids were already going to be reading for homework, they should sign up and actually earn prizes for their homework.

That's the line that sells them.

Along with those items, I brought with me a paper check out log. Because I didn't want to have the liability of losing a computer nor did I know about the internet availability at the school, I thought writing out the books and kids information by hand would be easier. I could transfer that information to the LibraryThing account upon returning.

I also brought a handful of summer reading program registration cards, reading logs, activity sheets, and prize money, along with envelopes that showed what the prizes for that week were (so kids who checked in the first day or any time after could know what the choices were and participate right there). We'd, of course, put their prize entries into the real buckets when we got back to the library.

Day One in Action

When I got to the cafeteria, where I was setting up for the kids lunch hour, I had no idea what the arrangement would look like. I came in, took a seat at the table nearest the front of the door, and got all my materials in order. I was ready!

At first, there wasn't any interaction. But then, the kids started reading my signs and talking to me -- so many knew me from the classroom visits, they felt comfortable just walking up and asking what I was doing. And when I told them, it was like I turned on the light. They were thrilled, and they were asking how to check stuff out, how much they could check out, and how they could sign up for the club. It was a wonderful opportunity to be face to face with the kids for even 30 minutes!

Filling out the registration cards and explaining the program was so much fun, and on the first day, I registered 5 new kids for the program (many who came to see me were already a part) and I checked out books to 5 kids, too. For getting no advertising in the schools beyond what I mentioned in classroom visits, it was a huge success!

When I got back to the library, I simply input the student information into the private field of the LibraryThing account, slipped the registration cards into our library's bigger file for them, and was done for the day. I made the mobile collection registration cards a different color than our regular ones, to make retrieving them for our return trips easy.

Days Two and Three and On...

On day two (which was two days later), we were able to register 5 more teens for the program and we received nearly all of the checked out items from two days before and checked out material to a lot more kids, too.

Day three, I let my intern take over completely. I want her to have this project now, as a way to really work with teens the way I know she wants to. She came back that day having registered three more kids and checking out a wealth more items. We also had people check in their reading logs, meaning that when we go back tomorrow, kids will get their prizes delivered to them.

That's part of the deal, of course: we're bringing the prizes to the kids, making their participation in summer reading little more than doing the reading and showing us their logs.

Impressions and Take Aways

This program was so easy to coordinate that I hope it continues in the future. I want to make it happen next summer and maybe in a more regular way. Integrating into the classrooms could be a potential next step, even. But for now, here's what I'm really getting from it:

  • Kids are dying to read. They're interested in the popular fiction (and fun non-fiction) titles, and giving them few restrictions is key. Because in the end, they're good kids. The books will come back. They have been coming back for us each time we return.
  • Getting to spend one-on-one time with the kids helps me learn who they are and helps them learn who I am, too. I had a brother duo come up to me, one in 7th grade and one in 10th. The 7th grader recited to his brother all about the program, verbatim, from what I had shared during my school talks. The 7th grader signed up eagerly while his brother talked about how it was a scam. I assured him it wasn't, but it was his brother who convinced him to sign up because he trusted me and knew me. Honestly, this was one of those moments that made me realize how important going TO the kids was. It builds a huge sense of trust in me and in my organization.
  • We signed up more than 12 kids in our 3 visits. That's 12 more kids actively involved in our reading program. Would they have signed up if we weren't at the school? Likely not. We're more mobile than them, and we're catering to their needs.
  • Hearing and seeing what books excites the kids helps me in thinking about not only collection development, but also in programming. My kids are RABID about Raina Telegmeier's Smile and Zombie Haiku. I sense a worthy program in comics and in, err, zombies.
  • We're tapping an opportunity that has huge growth potential. Why can't we have this collection at other events where we'll see the kids? Maybe events where we'll see kids AND their parents, where then we can also get kids who don't have cards their own cards? This experiment will lead to more experiments, which, if I remember correctly, is one of the key aspects of being a librarian: trying things out.

We still have a couple weeks left of the program, so I'll update again at the end. I'm eager to see what changes and improvements can be made for the future, and I'm eager to see how much involvement we gain, now that the kids know we're there.

This is a program I'd highly encourage other librarians who serve teens to consider, especially if you find yourself in an area like mine, where transportation is a huge issue. And though the start up costs are high, they can be cost effective for any budget. All you have to do is pull paperbacks from your own stacks. You can save good books that come into your donations, too. Once you set up the initial collection, it's yours to use however. I plan on popping mine back into regular circulation at the end of summer, but I plan on keeping the LibraryThing list so I can pull these titles out again for other outreach opportunities.


  1. Thanks for this post, Kelly! That sounds like an amazing program. Your teens are so lucky to have you!

  2. What a terrific program for the teens. Great job!

  3. Wow! What a great service to your teens. They were summer school students, so they are typically reluctant readers, right? Awesome!