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St. Charles City-County Library plans a once familiar form of outreach

By KARA JEFFERS

In a decade of comebacks, St. Charles City-County Library plans to send a bookmobile back to the streets. Calling it the ‘Library to You’, the specialized vehicle should start making rounds later this fall.

“We have a very active outreach service that provides home delivery for those who are homebound or lack transportation,” explained Laurie St. Laurent, deputy director and chief customer experience officer for the library system.

St. Laurent noted outreach services also reach daycares and senior facilities. “The ‘Library to You’ is really an extension of that service. We know that not all areas in our county have close access to a physical library building,” she said.

A sketch of the Library to You mobile (Source: St. Charles City-County Library)

The specialized vehicle will offer more than a selection of books to browse. Patrons also will be able to pick up holds, or place reserves. Chromebooks, monitors and printers will be available for use, as well as WiFi for anyone who wants to park nearby. An externally mounted monitor will allow staff/drivers to host events, programs and classes normally available at physical branches. The 32-foot-long truck will also be wheelchair accessible. 

“Access to libraries resources and services is very important to our citizens,” St. Laurent said. “I consider our library a prepaid service because it is tax-supported. We are very conscious of delivering on the expectations of our customers and we don’t want to leave anyone out.”

Kristen Sherry, manager of outreach services, has focused on finding appropriate stopping points in areas that are currently underserved. Potential partners for stops will be contacted in the upcoming weeks.

“We’re looking at those areas that don’t have close-by physical branches, but also those where there might be populations that are challenged with lack of transportation, or might have a lot of latch-key kids after school, or seniors who don’t move across the county very often,” St. Laurent said.

Once the library staff has the bookmobile’s stops nailed down, they will fine-tune a schedule. There should be between two and four stops in a day, with two to three hours spent at each stop.

“Our plan is to probably visit [stops] every other week because we have a check-out period of two weeks,” St. Laurent said. “That would give people a chance to be able to check something out and then keep it for the loan period of two weeks if they don’t renew it.”

Customer response to the bookmobile will determine how many days a week it goes out and if more vehicles will be added in the future. 

“We’re always trying to find ways of serving the customers in the way they would like to be served. We are pretty good at listening and responding to the needs that we hear about in our communities,” St. Laurent said.

The St. Charles City-County Library once had a bookmobile, but it was discontinued 15 to 16 years ago to focus more on in-building services. 

“When we saw the growing population in our county with home areas lacking sufficient branch-style services, we started reexamining the bookmobile again,” St. Laurent said. 

The project has been in serious planning for two years. Production of the vehicle began mid-2020 and should be completed in October. Once the library has the vehicle, they will train staff drivers and the project will be ready to roll. 

“It’s still under construction in Colorado,” St. Laurent said of the vehicle. “That’s one of the few places in the country that manufactures bookmobiles. However, we did have a competitive bid process and Summit Motor Works won the bid.”

The ‘Library to You’ will cost $314,000 and is fully funded by donations from the St. Charles City-County Library Foundation.

St. Laurent said the overarching goal of the St. Charles City-County Library system is “making sure that people have access to accurate information, opportunities to grow and learn about new things, to support that early literacy component in our youngest patrons’ lives, and then also to engage our teens!”

“We support a lot of career development in our communities as well as offering things like meeting spaces and opportunities for groups and individuals to gather and meet up with like-minded people,” she added.

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