Magazine article American Libraries

Just a Little Bus on Wheels but Preschoolers Get a Head Start

Magazine article American Libraries

Just a Little Bus on Wheels but Preschoolers Get a Head Start

Article excerpt

The wheels on the bus go 'round and 'round, 'round and 'round, all around the town,"as the song says. And the wheels on the Rowan Public Library "Stories To Go" bookmobile go all around Rowan County, North Carolina.

I have had the unique opportunity to coordinate this colorful traveling enterprise, currently providing more than 1,300 preschool children with stories and books to take home. Staff members Pam Norwood and Helen Peacock run this outreach program that visits 32 day-care, Head Start, and preschool centers each month, and together with our director, Phillip Barton, we've been 'round many a bend since we hit the road in September 1991.

The adventure began on a spring day in 1990 in Barton's office. The future of RPL's rural bookmobile service had been debated for months. During the preceding five years, the number of persons using it had decreased, and many existing stops were now within five miles of a full-service branch library. During the same period, demand for the children's services division's storytelling program had grown tremendously, with several child-care centers receiving services from both the bookmobile and children's services.

So on this memorable spring day, the director announced his intention to redirect the bookmobile into an outreach service exclusively targeted to preschool children. One bookmobile library assistant was transferred to the children's division to run the service with a part-time staff member who had been responsible for the storytelling outreach program. Barton's goal, in addition to presenting storytelling at the centers, was to give each child a chance to come to the bookmobile, get a library card, select a book, and take it home to share with the family. "Lifelong literacy is nurtured by warm memories of being read to as a child," he said. "To create these memories families must have books to read. This is the driving force behind having preschoolers select and take home books." My staff and I were charged with designing and implementing a plan to meet this goal.

This proposal for Stories To Go was presented to the Board of Trustees: Give children at preschool, day-care, and education centers a true library experience by bringing them both storytelling and age-appropriate books to select and borrow. Stories To Go promises that children who might have little chance to visit a full-service library could now have access to books and programs on a regular basis.

The board enthusiastically approved the proposal and the commitment was made to area children.

Prison inmates get in the act

Our first challenge was to refurbish the bookmobile to accommodate an entire collection of picture books and give it more child appeal. Through interagency connections, Barton arranged with the Piedmont Correctional Facility in Rowan County for its inmates to work on the bookmobile as part of their training program. The inmates gained work experience, and the library paid for the materials. Pam, Helen, and I visited the medium-security facility frequently to check progress and provide direction.

These visits, by the way, definitely provided a unique form of continuing education for us, as the inmates painted the vehicle, overhauled the engine, and remodeled and refinished the woodwork interior, which soon became a bright, appealing place for children. To accommodate the classes, low benches and display areas for teaching materials were built. The most noticeable exterior addition was a huge 1ogo featuring rainbow-colored silhouettes of children holding hands.

Ten months after the project began, the bookmobile was returned to the library. The total cost of its renovation was approximately $7,500.

Funding another challenge

Another challenge was to find funding for more than 30 centers and to provide 1,000 children with new picture books and curriculum materials. The materials budget for the bookmobile was redirected toward purchasing juvenile materials, but that budget was too low to fill the shelves with new books. …

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