In early November of last year – weeks before we actually technically owned our truck – we were approached by the Department Coordinator of the Ector County Library (one Randy) to see if we would be interested in helping the ECL celebrate their 75th anniversary by bringing our (still very theoretical) bookmobile into town for a couple of days. Turns out the Ector County Library, not unlike many other rural Texas towns in the past, had previously owned a bookmobile, but that service had been discontinued some thirty years ago.
Randy wanted us to visit to see if it would make sense for a bookmobile service to permanently return to Odessa, to test the waters to see how best to expand services to a sprawling community. We saw this collaboration with Randy and the ECL as an opportunity to showcase (and premiere) the bookmobile-for-hire component of our endeavor, as well as to advance our library’s mission.
In the following months we negotiated a contract, picked up our truck, and helped plan our trip to Odessa. Mid-March rolled around (SOUTH BY! SPRING BREAK! WOO!), and we hit the road.
We left Houston mid-afternoon on Tuesday, and spent the first night in Kerrville at the Y.O. Ranch Hotel & Conference Center. The hotel room was sufficient, and the lobby afforded some pretty spectacular photo ops:
Wednesday we drove to Odessa and checked in to our Motel (picture unavailable). Early Thursday morning, we drove the bookmobile into downtown Odessa to the Ector County Library and met three of the folks we’d be spending much of the next two days with – Randy, our original contact; Alec, a first-time (!) library volunteer; and Natalie, another ECL employee.
Together we pushed cart after cart (after cart) through the back door and loaded ECL’s books into our truck. After a quick(*) Starbucks run, we headed out the West Side Senior Center in West Odessa, where we were met by Melanie, who had previously been Ector County’s bookmobile librarian and is now managing their technical services and online presence.
The first stop was slow, with most of the seniors spending time with their grandkids during spring break and the rest embroiled in competitive games of dominoes in the center. When they reached a breaking point, the seniors poured out en masse to see our offerings, sign up for library cards, and chat with us about the bookmobiles they had seen in their lives.
Afterwards, we packed everything up and headed across town to the South Side Senior Center, where we gave out library cards to those without, shared the Ector County Library books on our shelves with the seniors, ate lunch in their cafeteria, AND received our first media attention of the day.
Both the West Side and South Side Senior Centers are county-run, and we learned that both centers could be used as library item drop-off points, which was likely the selling point for those who did sign up for library cards. But there were numerous seniors who asked us when we were going to be back, and we had to tell them that, unfortunately, this was a one time thing (for now). A steady bookmobile service would be a tremendous outreach program for the regulars at these senior centers. Our trip to these centers showed that potential, but because it was only potential, the success of the program was somewhat limited.
We made our third and final stop for the day at the Ellen Noel Art Museum, a great little space and Smithsonian affiliate, for their Family Art Day. We set up shop just outside the museum (within spitting distance of the Presidential Archive and Leadership Library and George W. Bush’s childhood home) and were immediately swamped by excited families, drawn by the free admission and truly amazing arts & crafts offered by the museum and the hundreds of Ector County children’s books aboard the bookmobile. The time at the museum was joyfully busy, with kids getting signed up for library cards, exploring and enjoying the bookmobile (a type of vehicle and service these young children had never even seen), and taking home books to read. This, all around, was the most successful stop of our trip, which was encouraging for us because we foresee similar collaborations with Houston area libraries and museums in our future.
Oh, and four different news affiliates came to visit us.
After the museum, our bookmobiling was finished for the day, so we went back to our Motel and eagerly watched the 5 o’clock news. There was a blip about us on one of the stations, which we managed to get a couple of photos of:
We also got some coverage in the Odessa American, or anyway someone called “The Billy Graham Traveling Library” did. Whoops.
We made two stops on our second day in Odessa: the first at the Odessa H-E-B, where we set up in front of the store and signed folks up for library cards, and the second back at the Ector County Library, where we celebrated Dr. Seuss’ birthday by throwing an activity-filled party for him in the park next to the library.
The trip to H-E-B also had limited success. It was planned sort of last minute, not highly publicized, and the window we were there wasn’t exactly during peak hours, but H-E-B are known advocates of literacy, so, conceptually, working with them in this way made perfect sense. Unfortunately, due to time constraints, we were not able to find much of an audience. It seems like this partnership between the library and H-E-B could be fruitful if advertised in advance or as part of a regular schedule of stops. However, it seemed most of the H-E-B shoppers thought we were trying to sell them something (not helped by an energy company having a table set up nearby) and were hesitant to approach us.
After H-E-B, we trucked on over to the Ector County Library. Since Ector County only has one branch, having the bookmobile parked in front of the physical building was meant to draw attention to the bookmobile and the possibility of a bookmobile service. The truck was reloaded with primarily children’s materials and the party got underway. The bookmobile was in a great location between the park and the library, so that anyone walking to either had the opportunity to make a bookmobile stop.
In the park area, children played games to win prizes (like the Dr. Seuss books we collected and brought to Odessa), had a menagerie of balloon animals made, and ate some yummy party snacks. Since all the children’s librarians were out and about, helping at the party, the bookmobile effectively served as a pop-up children’s department, where kids could pick out what they wanted in a new setting.
The kids who came to the Dr. Seuss party were just as excited as all the other children we encountered to explore the bookmobile and find books to take home. More than a few sat right down and got to reading in the bookmobile itself!
After the Dr. Seuss party, we unloaded the truck, said goodbye to our new Ector County Library friends, and started heading back home. We stayed Friday night in Kerrville and made it back to Houston the next day.
Overall, we were very pleased with our trip to Odessa and our collaboration with Ector County Library. We hope that this experience will show other (perhaps more local) libraries and organizations the value of this component of our services, and we hope this experiment by Randy and the Friends of the Ector County Library proved worthwhile, and revealing, and fruitful.