Beyond the Library Walls
Library outreach certainly is not a new idea. Librarians have long understood the need to provide library services to people who for whatever reason cannot easily visit the brick-and-mortar buildings. In fact, the first traveling library, the proto-bookmobile if you will, was a horse-drawn wagon that clip-clopped across the countryside around the Washington County (Maryland) Public Library starting in 1905. A motorized version debuted only seven years later. Bookmobiles remained a featured service for many public libraries through most of the 20th century until rising fuel costs and budget cuts in the 1970s and '80s forced many libraries, including HCPL, to end the service.
The Changing Scope of Outreach
While bookmobiles' main purpose was to put books into readers' hands, they were after all essentially pared-down libraries on wheels, the new face of library outreach at HCPL puts educational services and library awareness at the forefront. HCPL provides a wide range of outreach services from our fleet of outreach vehicles and our work with Harris County Juvenile Probation to our team of Mobile Outreach Librarians (MOLs).
What are Mobile Outreach Librarians?
"The mission of our Mobile Outreach Librarians (MOLs) is to bring HCPL to the people where they gather, particularly in areas where there isn't a nearby library building," says Linda Stevens, who in her capacity as Division Director of Programs, Partnerships & Outreach, oversees the MOL program along with Laurel Roseburrough, Manager of Outreach Services who is in charge of the day to day operations of the MOL team as well as the Library Specialists who staff the outreach vehicles including Gradcafe on the Go and the Curiosity Cruisers, HCPL's "super libraries on wheels."
We recently sat down for a brief chat with Mobile Outreach Librarian Mukund Kishore to learn more about life as an MOL and to help celebrate the graduates of one of his computer skills programs.
Mukund Kishore came to HCPL from India where he was born by way of Cleveland, Ohio and where he earned a master's degree in computer science. Upon graduation, he worked for the Northeast Ohio Areawide Coordinating Agency, the organization that oversees transportation, land use, and water-quality planning for the four-county greater Cleveland area. He started with HCPL in April 2022 as a Digital Navigator, a Texas State Library and Archive Commission grant-funded position for which he traveled to HCPL branches as a sort of roving tech support specialist. With many government services transitioning to online-only access in response to the pandemic, many people needed help doing things on their devices and computers they had previously done in person. "I helped people with their gadgets and on the library computers," he says, "They would bring in their laptops and I helped them set up email accounts, and navigate websites so they could get the services and benefits they needed."
About his work
When asked what he enjoys most about his job, Mukund says, "I get to help people every day." The phrasing of the reply is telling. One gets the feeling that Mukund sees helping others as a privilege, and his enthusiasm comes through when describing his work with a group of fourteen seniors at Yale Street Baptist Church. He started tutoring them in July 2022 and he says, "They didn't know what a computer was, they didn't know what a mouse was, or a monitor." But a year later, they are graduating. He reels off a long list of skills they now have that may seem like small things individually, but taken together represent significant advances in his students' ability to navigate and interact successfully with the online world. "They can use Google to find a good plumber or electrician. They use Google Flights or Kayak to find good deals on airline tickets, they know how to find real estate properties using Trulia and Zillow." Along the way, HCPL provided each of the students with a Chromebook laptop computer through its Emergency Connectivity Fund grant. Yale St. Baptist Church recently hosted a graduation ceremony for Mukund's students complete with Certificates of Achievement and, of course, cake. "Knowing they came into it knowing virtually nothing and that they put in the time and the effort, that gives me a lot of satisfaction," Mukund says.
Mukund's work with HCPL is not limited to computer training. Last year, the Rupani Foundation, an organization that focuses primarily on early childhood care, development, and education but also works at the grassroots level to help families and communities thrive, reached out to HCPL about a group of newly arrived Afghan nationals. Mukund is currently teaching a class to prepare them for the Naturalization Test to become U.S. citizens. But he sees this only as a first step in helping them build their lives in their adopted country. "Once they get their citizenship, maybe I can train them in English, and maybe after that, I can train them in computers. I'm hoping this can be a long-term partnership like the one with the [Yale St. Baptist] Church to help them integrate into American society."
That idea is one of the strengths of HCPL's Mobile Outreach Librarian team. The four MOLs build lasting partnerships with community centers, neighborhood organizations, and advocacy groups across the county, and work closely with them and students themselves to tailor curricula to their specific needs. Beyond computer and citizenship classes, they facilitate book clubs, raise awareness of internet scams and how to avoid them, and lead classes for adults who want to improve their English language skills to name just a few.