On April 6 at The Mill, the Santa Barbara Public Library and the Santa Barbara Public Library Foundation co-hosted a happy hour for donors and the general public to check out the Library on the Go. This van functions as a mobile library, enabling the library to reach underserved populations and the general community not only with books, but with library services too.
Supervising Librarian Ahmad Merza thanked, among others, the Women’s Fund of Santa Barbara, which contributed $100,000 of the $270,000 raised for the van. The Library on the Go is, according to Merza, an extension of the library, designed to reach out to some of our most vulnerable members. “If you can’t come to the library, we can come to you.”
Among the donors present was Gail Elnicky, who pitched to her book club the idea of collectively donating to the van through the Foundation. Another club followed suit, and Elnicky hopes other book clubs in town similarly will be inspired. Elnicky’s idea also inspired an anonymous donor to contribute $60,000, which the Foundation will use as an endowment to help with Library on the Go’s expenses.
After the demise of the Bookmobile about 20 years ago, the Library on the Go debuted last June and its schedule has evolved. This month, it will make about 28 stops, including weekly stops at Harding Elementary School and Shoreline Park, bimonthly at MacKenzie Park, and monthly at Ortega Park, Oak Park, and Bohnett Park. Each month, there are a few stops at S.B. Housing Authority subsidized senior housing sites and about 10 stops at Neighborhood Navigation Centers serving homeless people. The van also does special events.
In an interview, Library Technician Taylor Benson, who staffs the van each weekday, related how having the van out in the community has caused a real awakening — introducing the library to many residents and reintroducing it to others who hadn’t used the library in years. With a snazzy design, an awning to provide shade, and lots of book carts offloaded with an electric lift, the van attracts a lot of attention wherever it goes.
At the senior public housing sites, the van was a huge hit from the start. It was lockdown time, and according to Benson, residents were really excited just to see someone from the outside, but they also really appreciated being able to browse through books and receive digital help. This help goes beyond checking out online books to general assistance in how to use cell phones and specific assistance with the myriad tasks that must now be done online. Printing out documents, including during tax season, has been a valuable service too.
At the Neighborhood Navigation Center stops, where multiple entities provide services each week to homeless individuals, the van offers books, free Wi-Fi, access to computers, printing services, and digital assistance, including help filling out forms, to some of the community’s most vulnerable residents.
The visits at the parks, according to Merza, are great for families, some of whom have shared that they follow the van to the different parks. Some patrons time their walks to be able to visit the van, enjoying the convenience of dropping off and checking out books. In addition to books and services, the van also has brought library programs, such as Stay and Play, Story Time, and a multitude of one-time programs, to various sites across town.
At Harding Elementary School on the Westside, kids are always excited to visit the Library on the Go, Benson said, and there can be as many as 150 kids checking out a book. As with all the stops, the selection of books is specially curated for the stop, and staff strives to provide different books each time it visits a particular location. On his way home at the end of the day, Benson shared, he often finds himself smiling as he reflects back on how fulfilling the day’s stops were.
By summer 2023, the library is hoping to acquire a second, smaller, all-electric vehicle, for which it has received significant state funding, but it still needs another $40,000 for the $200,000 vehicle. The new vehicle will support additional outreach efforts for youth and families in parks, schools, and after-school programming sites, focusing on underserved areas. Merza shared how this zero-emission vehicle will not only support the City’s Climate Action Plan but also provide a teaching opportunity on zero emissions.