Have you ever wondered how to keep your students engaged and reading over the summer months? Maybe you opened your library during the summer only to have just a few students come by and check out books. Perhaps you found that those few students who came to the library during the summer months were not the ones you really needed to reach, even though you did love having them as patrons. There are massive amounts of research indicating the effect of the “summer slide” on the reading skills of our students. I know that my middle school students need to read all summer to keep their literacy skills fresh. A summer bookmobile is the solution to all of these woes and here’s how I was able to start one.
To start, you will need books for your bookmobile and you will need to determine your bookmobile audience. Are you providing service to just your students or the entire age range of students within your district? I decided it was best to provide books for all age ranges on my bookmobile. I was able to use grant money to purchase books—from preschool board books to young adult novels.
The timing of book purchases can be a factor in the number of books you can acquire. I purchased books during April, which is School Library Month, and was able to get a more substantial discount and therefore increase the depth of the collection. You should also inquire about free processing for your bookmobile book purchases. I recommend connecting with publishers at the ALA/AASL conferences to obtain additional books. I added the books to my school catalog, but with a special category designation, so that I could keep them separate. This was an important stipulation with the grant I had received, but it will also make it easier to maintain and inventory the bookmobile collection.
In addition to purchasing books for the bookmobile, I began collecting donations of gently used books. These books became the basis of the giveaway box. Every time a child visits the bookmobile, they can check out a book and they can pick out a book to keep as their own. Seeing their faces when I told them they could keep the book was very moving—their eyes just lit up! It made my day, too.
The vehicle is the next hurdle to overcome. You will need a large enough vehicle to accommodate all of the books and all of the children that could possibly be at each stop. Start with your county/district bus transportation director. Unfortunately, my county did not have any extra vehicles that I could use, so then I moved on to the local community. I reached out to parents, companies, churches, and others within my school district. This endeavor resulted in zero opportunities. Since I didn’t have a budget or a grant to purchase a bookmobile, I would have to hope for a donated vehicle. This also meant I needed to widen my search. Cold calling organizations with a request like this is hard, I know. What is the worst that could happen? I would hear a NO in response to my request. As a teacher, librarian, and as a parent, I hear no all the time…no sweat!
In widening the scope of my search, I started cold calling churches, preschools, car rental agencies, day cares, and even auto dealerships in my quest for a vehicle. One of my calls led to Ted Robertson of the Midlothian Goddard School here in Virginia. We talked for about fifteen minutes and I told him my story and mission. I told him about how I needed to get books to the students of Nottoway County, and I relayed the fact that I did not have a budget. He told me he was getting ready to purchase a new bus and would sell me his old bus for a really cheap price. At this point, I was overjoyed and decided I would use my own money, up front, if needed. He contacted me about two weeks later and said he had purchased a new bus and was ready to transfer the old bus to my county. Much to my surprise and delight, Ted announced that he was giving us the bus! He said he loved the idea of taking books to the students and wanted to support my endeavor. I was so excited, I started crying and screaming.
Now it was time to convert the bus into a bookmobile. The bus is a 1987 International fourteen-passenger with a gazillion miles, but it runs and can hold a lot of books. I delivered the bus to our bus shop for inspection, titling, and license plates. The bus shop mechanics took out all the seats and our maintenance personnel installed very basic shelves down each side, with bungee cords to hold the books in place. I stapled colorful carpet squares purchased with book fair dollars to the floor. Now that the inside was ready, it was time to tackle the outside of the bus. Students helped peel off the old vinyl letters, and a parent produced new vinyl lettering and paw prints to install on our bookmobile: The Nottoway Book-A-Way. I purchased a PA system for the bookmobile that plays music, just like an ice cream truck. The students love it!
Determining where and when I would drive around Nottoway County was the next task. I knew that it would have to be a late morning/early afternoon route, as students typically sleep in during the summer months. Obviously, the bookmobile needs to connect with the most students possible, so the routes are determined by student population. I consulted with our transportation director to determine where our most populous areas are located. The first summer (2016) I drove two days a week and delivered many books to students. After school started back up in the fall, students kept requesting the bookmobile to come visit. So, the bookmobile made rounds every Wednesday during the school year when the weather was cooperative.
Community engagement is a major component and goal of the Nottoway Book-A-Way, and I did not want the students to forget about this wonderful opportunity. Therefore, the bookmobile has made visits to vacation bible schools and daycare centers and participated in the local holiday parades, where the honor society students handed out books and candy canes along the route. . The parade is a win-win for all parties. The bookmobile gets exposure and publicity, the students get to have community service time, and the children along the route get books and candy.
This summer (2017) I partnered with our food service department and we delivered lunches to children from ages 1 to 18, every Monday through Thursday. The lunches were funded through two separate grants, one from the USDA and the other from the state. It was a very emotional experience this summer to check out books and give the children a book to keep as their own and a lunch that included fresh fruit. Having the bookmobile travel the county every week during the summer has been an incredible experience. Seeing the children get excited about receiving a new book and marveling at a piece of fruit in their lunch continues to touch my heart. The bookmobile also collaborated with the local public library over the summer for promotional events, programming, and patron expansion. The benefits of this relationship are vast and very worthwhile.
This past August, my bookmobile was awarded the Lois Lenski Covey Foundation bookmobile grant. The foundation awards grants to bookmobiles that check out books to patrons, preschool through 8th grade, who are underserved. I will be able to sustain my bookmobile for at least another two years with this grant.
I feel so grateful that this endeavor came together and I have been able to reach all of the students in Nottoway County. I believe that I have gotten as much enrichment as the children. It is truly the greatest achievement of my career as a librarian.
Judy Deichman, MLS, is a teacher librarian at Nottoway Middle School in Crewe, VA. She earned her master’s of education in school librarianship from Longwood University in Farmville, VA in 2010. She authored an article for Knowledge Quest entitled Socrative 2.0 in the Nov/Dec 2014 issue. She is the current Treasurer of AASL, with the term ending in 2020.
Judy loves to spend time at the beach, with a good book. She has five glorious children that help keep her out of trouble, when she is not driving the bookmobile.