In the U.S., we are fortunate to have a large system of public libraries that provide books, videos, educational materials, and Internet. The hope is that libraries will provide equal access and opportunities to all. However, the effort to truly provide equal access is ongoing, and many libraries have become creative in finding ways to bring resources to those who may not be able to walk in to their local library. Below are some ways that libraries are using to expand access. If you can’t make it into your library, it’s worth asking about what other services they provide.
Many libraries maintain separate buildings throughout the city so that individuals who live in underprivileged neighborhoods or who live a long distance from the main library can still check out materials. Though these branches may be smaller, they provide all the services of a regular library and can have materials shipped from the main branch. Surprisingly, however, I have found that inhabitants of a city sometimes remain unaware that their library maintains branches.
Library Cards for the Homeless
Typically an individual has to provide an address in order to receive a library card. This is because libraries are maintained by taxpayer dollars. Individuals who live in cities that do not contribute to the maintenance of the library are supposed to get a library card from their home library. They can then get a card from another library. This system, however, poses difficulties for those who do not have an address. Individuals living in safe houses or in shelters can provide documentation showing this and receive a library card this way.
Library Cards for Businesses
Some people live in one city but work in another. Some libraries offer cards to employees of local businesses. So check to see if this is a service available to you and if your business is willing to participate.
The Bookmobile brings library books to those who, for whatever reason, cannot make it to the library. Bookmobiles typically rotate their collections, but they can also take requests for specific materials. You may even be able to participate in the yearly summer reading program through the Bookmobile.
Librarians schedule school visits in order to encourage literacy, explain what the library offers, and to begin the library registration process. Some students may have parents who cannot go to the library with them in order to show their proof of residency. Signing up through the school means that the school has already verified their residency. The student can then show up to the library themselves, with their forms, in order to obtain a card and check out materials.
Librarians often do community outreach, leading storytimes or making crafts at various organizations or community festivals. In these cases, they may talk about library services and programs or they may even bring some books for people to take, in the spirit of the Little Free Library. These pop-up libraries provide access to books to those who may not be able to walk or drive to the library itself.
Little Free Libraries
Some libraries also maintain Little Free Libraries, allowing people to take or leave a book throughout the city. This system can benefit those who cannot make it to the library or who prefer to take a book without worrying about having to return it.
Libraries may run kiosks, which are basically vending machines for books. They can be placed around the city so people can check out books at various locations.
If you cannot leave your home to go the library to check out or return books, you can inquire to see if your library offers homebound services. Some libraries have volunteers who bring books to your door, while others have experimented with mailing materials.
E-books are ideal for those who cannot make it to the library to check out or return books. If you have a laptop or an e-reader, you can check out books from home. The book then automatically returns itself when the loan expires, so you don’t have to worry about overdue fees.
How is your library getting creative to expand accessibility?