The Georgetown Public Library in Texas reaches an additional 2,000 patrons each month with its WOW!mobile (Words on Wheels). This bookmobile-style program brings comprehensive library services to segments of the community that have difficulty visiting the library. The schedule of stops includes retirement communities, nursing homes, low-income neighborhoods, and preschools. The WOW!mobile also expands community outreach programming possibilities.
The WOW!mobile launched in 2012 after the library received a grant from the Texas Library Association. The Friends of the Library generously raised the remaining funds needed to purchase the vehicle and a set collection for the bookmobile to launch. Spearheaded by now-retired librarian, Michele Harber, the new program grew rapidly, in large part due to Harber’s tremendous dedication and palpable enthusiasm for the program. The first three years, one staff member managed every aspect of the WOW!mobile, including collection development, van maintenance, and a full schedule of stops each week.
Upon Harber’s retirement, the program had grown enough to dedicate additional staff time and resources. The library’s budget had also grown to support ongoing expenses for the bookmobile. Now the WOW!mobile team is comprised of three staff members: Kalena Powell, Community Outreach Assistant, who is solely dedicated to the initiative and works alongside, Sheri Miklaski, Community Outreach Librarian, and Toni Nietfeld, Cataloging Librarian.
The WOW!mobile makes 57 stops per month within the Georgetown city limits. New stops are thoughtfully considered and given a 3-month trial period to see if enough buzz can be generated to sustain the new location. Instead of having a set collection on board, the WOW!mobile functions as a branch within their Apollo™ ILS. Materials are pulled from the main library collection to stock the bookmobile and items change frequently based on the demographic of the day’s stops. Powell estimates around 40% of bookmobile patrons make reserves in advance and pick up items during their scheduled stop, primarily from the senior living destinations. The remaining 60% of bookmobile patrons browse and select items from the floating collection on board. Neighborhood stops often attract 50-60 kids per month, so the collection aboard the WOW!mobile changes frequently to accommodate the age and interest of the day’s patrons.
The biggest ongoing challenge the team faces is continuously adapting programming in the remote context of the bookmobile to keep outreach services fresh and new. Outdoor programming options are limited in the hot Texas summers. Powell has found the Association of Bookmobile and Outreach Services to be an incredible resource for programming ideas and support.
One of the unique programs the WOW!mobile offers is the Stuffed Animal Road Trip. Kids bring their stuffed animals during neighborhood and preschool stops and leave them aboard the bookmobile for the duration of Spring Break. Powell collaborates with community partners to take photos of the stuffed animals interacting with public spaces and community helpers. These photos are posted to a Facebook album and given to the children along with their stuffed animal after the “Road Trip” is complete. The Community Outreach team uses this experience to teach the children about the people, places, and resources in their community.
Feedback about the WOW!mobile program from the community has been very positive. Patron, Karen Hagen, specifically mentioned the “awesome job [the team] does keeping the WOW!mobile organized and the checkout easy and efficient…and always [going] the extra mile to make each client feel special and valued.” The WOW!mobile has truly afforded Georgetown Public Library the ability to extend library services to new pockets of the community and continuously expand their outreach initiative.
Eric Lashley, Library Director, stated, “Whenever I get a chance to drive the WOW!mobile, it is wonderful to meet our patrons who are truly grateful for this service. Many are long-term patrons that have moved into an independent or assisted living facility and could not continue the relationship they had forged with our library without this bookmobile service. The WOW!mobile allows us to maintain relationships.”