Originally published in the Chillicothe Gazette, June 19, 2022
by Jenn Slone, Access Director
If you’ve read the Gazette or drove through Chillicothe recently, you may have seen our brand-new mobile library, “The Bee.” As a staff member who saw this project from dream to design to reality, the process has been deeply moving. Some patrons cry when they see it. We’ve heard countless stories about how bookmobiles changed lives for the better, and we are so excited to bring that joy and nostalgia back to the community.
It’s been a big year for the Outreach Department. On the heels of a pandemic that made it more important than ever to take library services to people, I started thinking about “embedded librarianship.” Placing library staff and services throughout the community, instead of expecting everyone to come to a brick-and-mortar location for access. I also read an article talking about libraries serving as “pollinators” in their communities, as an obsessive home gardener, I loved the cheerful metaphor.
Then, Outreach Manager Mike Jones and I had the opportunity to tour Farber Specialty Vehicles in Columbus following a training. We saw massive custom-made bookmobile busses and smaller yet capable sprinter vans. The vision for The Bee was born. We imagined an Outreach vehicle carrying materials to “pollinate” our community with good things. Now, our Bee takes 1,500 items to patrons throughout Chillicothe and Ross County. At a Bee stop, you can sign up for a card, browse books, DVDs, and Beyond Books items, check out, and use the built-in WiFi.
This furthers the library’s mission of fostering equality. Anyone of any background, color, mindset, etc. can walk into a library and receive equal treatment. We strive to provide a level playing field. However, we are also focused on equity. The difference is slight, but important. Equality means the same exact service is provided to everyone, regardless of haves and have-nots. Equity means we lift those without resources to the same level as those already blessed with them. Many patrons live within walking distance of branches or have a working vehicle. The Outreach Department seeks out folks in remote areas or with conditions that make it impossible to physically visit.
Another tool to access our services is through our BookHives, newly installed at Zane Village Mobile Home Park in Chillicothe and the Village of Clarksburg. The BookHives, which will be available for use soon, will allow patrons in these communities to place holds on items and pick them up, just like Amazon pickup lockers. They also provide free WiFi and have pop-up visits from the Bee.
Our staff is working on a schedule for public stops and will announce those soon. Primarily, we want to be sure we’re identifying places not already served by a physical branch. We’re setting our sights on remote places like Massieville, Knockemstiff, and Adelphi, for example.
Until now, Outreach has mostly focused on serving the elderly. We serve about 60 homebound patrons and stock book carts and shelves at approximately 50 nursing homes, low-income housing complexes, and other agencies throughout the county. This is still our primary focus: providing equitable access to library resources. But the Bee has opened many new doors. In addition to providing existing resources, we plan to participate in community festivals, fairs, parades, and other events.
Watch CRCPL.org/services/outreach for more information about the Bee, our BookHives, and other services provided by the Outreach Department.
Jenn Slone is the Access Director for Chillicothe and Ross County Public Library and an avid gardener.