9:00 a.m. – Rain or Shine, the Library Delivers
The day I rode along with Outreach Specialist Nikki was a rainy and gloomy one. We pulled out of the parking lot in the big bookmobile van, and I was struck by that old postal service mantra: rain or shine, the Outreach Team still goes out to serve their community.
Our first stop was a patron’s house around Clever. This is the part of Outreach called Homebound, a service in which patrons who are unable to leave their homes will receive library materials delivered to their doorstep.
We had a long drive ahead of us, but looking over at Nikki sitting behind the wheel, I got the impression she was unfazed by this. She’s used to it, I thought. This is her day-to-day. And that mantra came to me again.
But it’s about more than just the weather, isn’t it? I said to myself.
Rain or shine, yes, but even beyond that Outreach goes to great distances, literally, to serve its community. The impression I got from Nikki was that her job, although full of intricacies, has a very simple purpose: it’s all about getting library materials into the hands of people.
When we got to the patron’s house, Nikki knocked on the door. We were greeted with a bright, smiling face. Nikki handed over a tote full of books, talked with the patron, and that was that. Here we were, miles from the nearest library, and we had just checked out books to someone.
It felt like we were the library, on wheels.
11:30 a.m. – Getting Ahead of the Curb
You could probably guess that the pandemic has changed how the Outreach operates. You’d be right.
A major aspect of the job was delivering books to patrons in assisted living facilities. That’s been limited last year and going into this year, but none of that slowed down Outreach. They still find a way.
Nikki and I were headed to one of those assisted living facilities I mentioned. We pulled up to the curb and parked. She had books in canvas bags, and we dropped them off in the lobby with the front desk staff that was there.
“Are patrons able to pick out their own books and put them on hold?” I asked her on the way out the doors. “Or do they provide preferences and you select for them?
“Both,” she said.
“Both?” I asked her to explain.
“We interview them,” she said. “Before we even start the process. We’ll ask what their likes are. They’ll tell us favorite authors, favorite genres, and then we go from there. Some go online and pick books from Mobius or from our library catalog, CoolCat.org. So, it’s both.”
So, even quarantined to their living facility, I thought, all the patrons here still got their books today.
1:00 p.m. – School is in Session
Next up was Sparta Middle School.
When we got there, the method was similar to curbside drop-off at the assisted living facilities we had just come from. We went into the school’s library and Nikki traded out materials.
When we got back into the van, I asked her if Outreach goes to schools often.
She said they do. “For instance,” she went on, “we go to the Sparta middle school and high school and we exchange two crates of books, so that they have not only books from their library, but access to other materials that we can provide.”
It made a lot of sense to me. Schools may have limited budgets. So Outreach freshens up their stock, and I’m sure all those kids benefit.
2:30 p.m. – Hitting the Gym
I think a lot of people don’t know that the Outreach Team partners with local organizations to provide “Shared Shelves” in the community. We were headed to one of those next. In this case, The OC in Ozark, which is a community center and gym.
On the way, I asked Nikki what these community “Shared Shelves” are all about.
“We grab withdrawn books from the library to stock the community shelves as needed.”
“Okay,” I said. “But what’s the benefit to the patrons? And how do they use the shelves?”
“They can pick out whatever book they want. If they see something they like, they take it. They don’t have to bring it back.” I must have looked unsure, because she added, “If they bring it back and grab another one, that’s great. If they don’t bring it back, that’s ok, too. And with the children’s books, we want a patron to take one just so that a child will have a book in their hands.”
I thought this idea was brilliant. An honor system where people are free to take books.
We got to The OC and went inside. Nikki was yet again swinging a tote of books at her side, and when we got to the shared shelf, she started sorting and adding. I was impressed. There was not only a shelf for adults and for children but a little seating area where kids could read.
4:30 p.m. – Out in the Field
It was toward the end of our day and we were heading back to the Outreach office at the Ozark Community Branch.
There wasn’t any big community event today for me to tag along to, so I asked Nikki what they were like. I asked her what kind of events they go to.
“The big ones Scott (the Outreach Manager) and I go to are NIXPO, Ozark Springfest, and Persimmon Days to name a few” she said, watching the road as we drove on. “And we also attend Sucker Days and library card drives. It’s the small town community events we go to, to try to get the library out to them. Set up a booth. Hand out fliers. We give out candy, pencils, pens, bumper stickers. Things like that.”
I knew that just the other day Nikki and Scott had been to NIXPO, an event held annually in Nixa, so I asked her how that went.
“We made 250 grab bags to give out. And we handed out all 250 before the event was over and—”
I had to stop her there. “Wow,” I said. I thought I had heard her wrong. “All 250?”
“All 250,” she said. “We made 25-30 library cards and, yeah, we gave away a lot of the pencils, pens, and seeds from the seed library. The seed library was a big hit.”
That’s a lot of library cards to make all at one event. That’s one thing that stuck with me after that day—what Outreach does works.
I asked her what else they do, that I wasn’t able to see on today’s ride-along.
“Outreach has a ton of little jobs,” she said. “We take voter registration forms, we do the library card drive at schools, we do book requests for Ozark Alternative School and Nixa High School. If they request a book and they have a library card, we will get it and deliver it to them.”
That sounds like a lot of work to get done, right? Well, Nikki’s certainly not alone. She works with Scott and Tina, Delivery Assistant, who delivers patron’s holds to branches and community partner locations all week.
When we got back and stepped out of the van, it dawned on me how much of Outreach’s work goes unseen. It’s the behind-the-scenes stuff the library does. Visiting your Community Branch location, you may not even see Nikki, Scott or Tina.
But that makes their jobs all the more important, doesn’t it? Without them out in the community, advocating outside of the Community Branches, well, I don’t think the library would be much of a library at all.
For more information about any of these services, contact Outreach at (417) 581-2432.