Residents lack connections to resources and often face challenges accessing brick-and-mortar library branches.
Create a mobile library that meets people in the community to improve outreach and provide connections.
Outreach Services Librarian Greta Caldwell drives throughout Catawba County, N.C. behind the wheel of a large white van with books, computers and WiFi hotspots in tow.
At locations ranging from parking lots to farmer’s markets, she unloads the van at each stop unpacking bookshelves, chairs, coffee tables and computers to create an interactive library space as part of the county’s Library to Go.
The service launched from the Catawba County Library’s strategic plan to improve access to information and expand library services.
With the help of grants from the state library, Catawba County Library Director Siobhan Loendorf said the Library to Go program aims to provide resources outside of the library’s physical walls and reach individuals who can’t always visit a library branch in person.
“We were trying to bring empowering library resources out into the community to meet people where they are,” she said.
The Library to Go van targets locations that do not have local library services where residents are able to access online resources and tools for learning or job seeking. Caldwell, also referred to as the Librarian to Go, stops at schools, nursing homes, childcare centers, after-school programs, farmers markets, remote communities, concerts, community festivals and even food truck rallies.
“It’s all the same resources and all the same empowering activities that you get when you go to a regular library, but in your community,” Loendorf said.
She described how the Library to Go has partnered with a career arts magnet school and an alternative high school, both of which do not have their own library. At each location, students can check out books, audiobook kits, computers and receive a library card that can be used at any of the county library branches.
With multiple resources aboard the van, Loendorf said the most important one is the librarian.
“She’s the one that’s going to connect people and help them make sense of the information they’re getting,” Loendorf said.
Caldwell’s role extends further than driving and maintaining the vehicle. Her main focus is maintaining a community presence by providing connections and support.
“That’s what the Library to Go’s mission is — to connect with people in the community and support others’ efforts that are already ongoing,” she said.
Caldwell holds story times, helps individuals apply for jobs and even connects people to social services.
She described one Library to Go stop in the town of Catawba, which does not have its own library. With the help of local community members, a church volunteered free space to hold the Library to Go. Every other week, Caldwell packs up the van, heads to Catawba and sets up the mobile library.
“I think another thing that we do is continue to reach out to other community organizations and the community itself,” she said. “Let’s connect together and learn more about this and then we can change the world little by little by just each connection.”
Caldwell also forms connections with teachers by visiting schools and asking about the topics of future lesson plans. She then gathers related books, returns to the school and drops off book bags to aid teachers and provide additional resources for specific lessons.
“That’s a resource they have in their classroom or just their room that they can supplement the stuff that they’re already doing there,” Caldwell said.
The Library to Go has shifted the way it provides services during the pandemic, but Caldwell is keeping connected to the community through virtual and outdoor programming. She explained how instead of visiting senior facilities and offering a selection of books on a book cart, she now drops off bags of books to provide the same resources to residents.
Loendorf and Caldwell said similar Library to Go services don’t need a fancy van or certain resources to get started. Caldwell said the most important resource needed is a passionate individual who can reach out and form connections in the community.
“Take advantage of the opportunities and different events that are coming up in your community and just be friendly and start small,” she said.