Bookmobiles have been driving the roads of Espoo since the early 60’s. Almost as long books have been home-delivered to those unable to visit Espoo libraries, like the elderly and the disabled. Though we don’t run libraries in hospitals and other institutions any more, we offer book vending machines, weekly librarian visits, sing-alongs and other events. These services are all valued and you could even say the different outreach service customers are among the happiest of all library users. The visitor numbers for these services are high: close to 80.000 bookmobile customers alone and up to 11.000 participants in 250-300 events every year.
However, it was not until 2018 that we started to consider the overall concept of mobile services. The key question was: who do we serve?
The new law on public libraries came to effect in Finland in 2017. This law creates the backbone for all public library services and everything we do. According to the law, everyone has equal rights for education and culture. Public libraries must provide access to information, content and materials. This creates the foundation for mobile libraries. We must deliver library services to the homes of those who due to old age or physical or mental disability cannot visit the library. Sometimes a particular customer group find it challenging to get to the library. Even though small children are very mobile and active, getting an entire daycare group from one place to another can be a logistical nightmare for teachers. The same might apply to a special education class.
Sometimes it is just smarter to use mobile means of delivery. Instead of using expensive transportation services to move around the city with a group of senior citizens, it makes sense for a librarian to visit the service center for the elderly. An hour’s guided walk down memory lane or sharing your childhood memories with your peers can be a highly invigorating and empowering experience. Stories belong to everybody.
Our library’s youth workers noticed a decade ago that a bookmobile can create an intimate and safe space, optimal for sharing and discussing difficult topics such as bullying or sex. In the bookmobile, even regular book talks might have a stronger impact and inspire reading. That is why it makes sense to continue and invest in touring the schools of Espoo on a regular basis. When there is a clear set of programs to run it does not become too labour-intensive.
Bookmobiles also have an ability to get where they are needed, when they are needed. They enable a quick reaction and response to problematic situations on site, transporting competent library personnel where they are needed, while providing a space for interaction with the customers. This is especially valuable when the wellbeing of children or families is a concern in certain areas of Espoo.
It has been stated in our new library strategy that everybody in Espoo should have knowledge of the services provided by the library. However, someone who doesn’t read and who last visited a public library 10-20 years ago has no idea what a modern library can offer to them. It doesn’t even cross their mind to visit one to see what’s going on. As mobile library services operate outside the traditional library walls, they provide the perfect way to “surprise” current non-users, offering essential information and encouraging to use the services.