Tulare County Library applies for grant to fund mobile library/literacy van

By Reggie Ellis @Reggie_SGN

TULARE COUNTY  – Instead of checking books out of the nearest library, the Tulare County Library is hoping to check books into rural neighborhoods where residents may not have transportation to access a traditional library.

At its May 7 meeting, the Tulare County Board of Supervisors unanimously approved County Librarian Darla Wegener’s request to apply for a $100,000 grant with the California State Library to purchase and operate a mobile library and literacy unit.

“There are many places within the foothills or other outlying areas of the county where there are no library or literacy services that desperately need these services,” said Wegener, referring to remote small towns, labor camps and farming communities. “It is vital that adult literacy, family literacy, early childhood literacy, citizenship, English as a second language, and GED/High school diploma tutoring as well as library and Internet services be available to every resident in a county that is both very diverse and under-served due to economics and the vast distance between the larger cities and the smaller outlying towns and communities.”

A quarter of Tulare County residents live below the poverty line, which is 14% higher than the national average, and more than half the population in Tulare County speaks a language other than English, such as Spanish (193,113 speakers), Portuguese (2,754 speakers), Tagalog (2,689 speakers) and Laotian (1,361 speakers). More than three quarters of people commute by driving alone, with the average commute time being 21.8 minutes. Although public transportation is available, only 0.9% of the population uses it as opposed to a 5.1% usage rate in the United States as a whole.

Unlike bookmobiles, which are often the size of an RV, the mobile library would be a van that is “big enough to hold books, resources and minimal staff but small enough so that any staff member can navigate country and mountainous roadways to reach the most rural areas of Tulare County.”

The van would be stationed in several different rural communities each day for a few hours, enough time to provide tutoring sessions as well as adult/family literacy programs. Families could also place books on hold from school or work computers or their phones, and then pick up the books when the van arrives in their community.

The van would also be a Mobile Wi-Fi hotspot providing internet access for residents who might not otherwise have access to online library/literacy services due to the remoteness of their community. The vehicle could also assist with outreach efforts at community events, schools, etc.

“This project will address established needs by providing not only library and literacy services, but also educational, language, citizenship, employment seeking and community services to a portion of the Tulare County that would otherwise go without them,” Wegener said. “It would also introduce library and literacy services to low income and in need families that do not have transportation, means or resources to seek them out on their own.”

In her report, Wegener said the County Library plans to partner with Tulare County Health and Human Services, Tulare County Mental Health Services, Community Services and Employment Training (CSET), Proteus, SEE Co., Tulare County Office of Education, Kings/Tulare Homeless Alliance, Tulare County Adult Schools, College of the Sequoias, and Porterville College to identify patrons in need of services and without transportation as well as living in small rural areas where no services are available.

The project is estimated to cost $100,000 per year, including $20,000 for an employee, $5,000 in fuel and processing, $50,000 for the van, and $20,000 for exterior design of the van.

In her report to the board, Wegener said her staff submitted a letter of intent for the Library Services and Technology Act in March and recently received word that the project has moved to the next round of the competitive grant application.

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