Reviewed By: Mariam Berlak, Laura Blasingame, Kristy Ealy, Felicia Mackey, Carmina Ramirez
Link to article: https://academicworks.cuny.edu/ulj/vol15/iss2/1/
Reviewed by: Mariam Berlak, Laura Blasingame, Kristy Ealy, Felicia Mackey, Carmina Ramirez
Mobile libraries exist to provide equal “access to available information resources” (Chan, 2009, p. 2). Initially, mobile libraries were introduced to Singapore in 1958 “to alleviate the demands for library services at the main library in Stamford Road and to reach out to the juvenile population after several part-time branches closed”(Chan, 2009, p. 1). With the library closures, student in rural areas did not have library access. At that time, the mobile libraries served “students from 35 rural schools… on a fortnightly basis”(Chan, 2009, pp. 1-2). By 1991, the mobile library service came to an end when more library branches were built. The students of Singapore no longer have an issue finding a library as Singapore currently has “one reference library, three regional libraries and nineteen community libraries” (Chan, 2009, p. 1). But even with there being so many libraries, “more than 50% of Singapore’s population remain inactive library users” (Chan, 2009, p. 2).
“MOLLY®, when will you come again? : A mobile library service for the less privileged” introduces us to a mobile library, MOLLY®, in Singapore that is housed in a converted transport bus with “retro-fitting of shelves, air conditioner, generator, retractable awning and exterior decal” (Chan, 2009, p. 4). “[T]he mobile library carries 3000 books at any one time, it has more than 25,000 books in its entire collection stored off-site” (Chan, 2009, p. 4). The mobile library was started in 2008. MOLLY® functions like a normal library, which helps familiarize users with how a library operates: “the mobile library adopts the operational blueprint of a branch library, the acquisition of materials is also centralized at a library supply centre” (Chan, 2009, p. 5). This mobile library focuses on serving disadvantaged children. MOLLY® travels to “special education schools for children and teenagers with intellectual and physical disabilities, schools for children with autism, associations for persons with intellectual and physical disabilities, homes and shelters for children, teenagers and adults, orphanages” (Chan, 2009, p. 2) as well as prisons, to serve children with parents who are incarcerated.
The study represented in this article seeks to answer the following questions:
How can we connect potential library users to the library?
How do we connect library services to community members whose social, economic and physical constraints hinder their use of libraries?
How can mobile libraries provide library services that foster social bonding, equal access to books, teaches values to its users while providing invaluable experience to library staff to better serve special populations?
In order to answer these questions, it was needed to identify members in the community that were not accessing library services; this meant identifying groups that had social, economic and physical constraints. These groups included children, youth and adults in welfare homes and orphanages, students in special education schools and senior citizens.
To achieve this outcome, it was vital to establish and maintain lasting partnerships with principals, teachers, and administrators to maintain interest in library programs beyond the initial novelty of having MOLLY® visit their sites. Another important aspect was to build relationships with students. In this way, social bonding took place by offering a space to read and to learn surrounded by library staff, peers and family.
As library staff spent more time with students, they were able to better understand their needs. They identified reading levels and interests which helped with collection development. Some students learned to open and hold a book or identify pictures and words. These opportunities gave them equal access to books in the same way as if they had visited the public library.
Teachers took the opportunity to teach values of responsibility to their young and adult students by bringing their library cards the day MOLLY® visited and by taking care of the books they checked out. Other values of the service was the “normalization” of special needs children by having regular contact with people and learn how to do things independently such as checking out a book.
Additionally, creating and maintaining this service allowed library staff to gain experience that they would not have received otherwise through outreach to traditionally underserved populations in Singapore. This experience can be applied more broadly in the information profession as they learned to interact with and serve all types of users with a respectful and sensitive manner.
In less than a year, MOLLY® has effectively contributed to the lives of those who are typically underserved in Singapore due to age, location, or disability. In particular, one school principal of a school for children with special needs noted that MOLLY® not only increased awareness of library services, but also introduced these students to “qualities that are essential for learning” (Chan, 2009, pp. 15-17).
From the date of the article, one year after the mobile library’s launch, “40,000 people have visited the mobile library… 1,167 new library membership sign-ups and more than 54,000 books borrowed from the mobile library” (Chan, 2009, pp. 14-15). With the launch of MOLLY®, library patronage has gone up; this is of particular importance when considering the aim of encouraging new library membership rather than simply serving a population on a single occasion. If one bus can bring library services to so many people, what can 5 busses do? If every country and community worldwide had a mobile library like MOLLY®, more people would have easy access to information. More disadvantaged people would be socially and culturally informed. This article shows that if you bring services to the people, the people will use them. The library will no longer be just the building you pass on the way to the post office; instead it will be this cool, fun place to go. And that idea will work anywhere in the world.
The United States has a well-developed bricks and mortar library system but it works best for those who live adjacent to their physical libraries; more work is needed reaching out to underserved disabled patrons. MOLLY® brings access to those who are not well served by the standard local library, either because there is no library close enough or because the targeted audience is not easily served. MOLLY® can be stocked with books and materials based on specific needs of a community in addition to going to schools that lack libraries or have underfunded libraries and neighborhoods that do not have libraries, all the while providing access to the differently-abled. The bookmobile concept is not a new one, but in the United States the use of mobile libraries has not been utilized in a way to bring services to diverse and underserved populations. Adopting a MOLLY®-type of mobile library will allow library services to reach those who would benefit from library resources but for whom it is currently inaccessible. From providing books and internet access to economically stressed populations to allowing atypical users, who are mentally-challenged and whose needs for books are often overlooked, access to materials, a MOLLY®-type of mobile library has the ability to change lives by bringing library collections and services out into local communities instead of waiting fruitlessly for those populations to make their way into the bricks and mortar libraries.
While public areas in the United States are relatively accessible to the disabled overall, the modifications in public areas are often to assist people in wheelchairs or for the blind. Following MOLLY®’s lead, American libraries can begin to add modifications for adults and children with sensory issues and for people on the autism spectrum. Libraries should have specialized rooms with comfortable lighting, inviting colors, and soothing sounds specifically designed for people with sensory needs.
Many American libraries could learn how to exercise patience from global practices. Looking at library practices from around the world, including MOLLY®, it is clear that patience is a priority because of the wide range of communities that they serve. Communities are diverse in nature and not every community has had the experience of visiting a library or even reading books. Taking the time to carefully show inexperienced patrons how to use the different facilities that a library offers, even something as simple as how to use a self-checkout machine, requires patience and understanding, both of which are important in designing and providing services for diverse populations.
Chan, K. (2009). MOLLY®, When Will You Come Again? : A mobile library service for the less privileged. Urban Library Journal, 15(02). doi: 10.31641/ulj150201