Libraries are not just quiet places for bookish types to browse and borrow — they have the power to spread knowledge, engage people and change lives through programs and services.
Libraries connect individuals to the community — a vital need after two years marked by physical and social isolation. And yet, for some rural residents, it’s not always easy to pop by and peruse the shelves.
The Strathcona County Library believes that every resident, no matter where they live, should have access to library services and programs. That’s why they have the Bookmobile — a full-service, travelling branch of the Strathcona County Library where residents can register for library cards, check materials in and out and access programming for all ages.
“The Strathcona County Library is mandated to serve the entire County,” says Diana Balbar, the Bookmobile’s manager. “Most municipalities will build a library and let rural residents come to them. Instead, our first director, Heather-Belle Dowling, initiated a service in 1982 to take the library to the people. There are children in the rural areas who don’t have to ask their parents to take them to the library — they can walk and ride their bikes to the Bookmobile!”
With 14 regular stops throughout the County and only two weeks off the road a year, the Bookmobile provides a place for rural residents to gather and build community. Along with its regular stops, the Bookmobile visits seniors’ centres and rural preschools and pulls up at many other community programs and events.
“When we think of community engagement, we tend to imagine people coming into a larger community to access services. We see incredible connections in the rural areas when we meet people where they’re at, on a grassroots level,” says Balbar.
For example, seniors who may not feel comfortable driving into town can manage the short drive to the Bookmobile, providing a sense of freedom and connection. And, for families who don’t have the resources to make a special trip to the library building, the Bookmobile offers that weekly service, explains Balbar.
“We had a family in North Cooking Lake who arrived weekly at the Bookmobile, during the summer on bikes, and with toboggans in winter. It truly gives everyone in the County a chance to connect with others, create networks and access resources.”
The Bookmobile was nominated for a Strathcona County Award of Excellence by rural residents at South Cooking Lake, who wrote: “The Strathcona County Library Bookmobile goes above and beyond... It spends many hours in rural communities, in all-weather conditions, making sure residents can access its services.”
To find out more about the Bookmobile, including the weekly route, visit Bookmobile | Strathcona County Library (sclibrary.ca).