The role of mobile libraries in supporting education

Introduction

A mobile library refers to a suitably equipped and augmented vehicle or bus that visits schools according to a regular schedule with a resource collection that can be borrowed by students and teachers. It can also be used to update a school’s resource collection by issuing block loans. This model of library is operated from a central library / repository of resources, such as regional or district education resource center. The mobile library service was mainly initiated to address the requirements for library service at the main libraries by reaching out to the general population for the sole purpose of providing accurate and up-to-date information to meet the needs of rural schools.

Butdisuwan (2000) defined Mobile Library as a library serving communities and locations distant from a local library. They are mostly run from Monday to Friday and sometimes on Saturdays.

Knight (2006) defined the Mobile Library as a large vehicle for use as a library. It is designed to hold books on the shelves so that the books can easily be accessed by readers when the vehicle is parked. The vehicle used usually has enough space for people to read the book inside it. They are often used to provide library services to villages and suburbs that do not have library buildings. They can also serve groups of those who have difficulty accessing library services.

Nobody (2004) defined Mobile Library as a library housed in a large van providing a live service to those unable to attend their nearest local library.

Requirements for operating a mobile library

Some of the requirements necessary for the operation of such services are highlighted as follows:

• A teacher-librarian to manage the overall service;

• Library assistant and a driver;

• Financing for fuel, maintenance and licensing;

• Optional online information and circulation services linked to Parent Education Library Management System using a laptop and scanner;

• A service level agreement with schools involved that clearly articulates the role and responsibilities between the schools and service providers;

• A schedule of regular visits, based on school conditions;

• A dedicated budget for the collection of development and operating costs;

• Ongoing training for teachers who have access to the collection; and a

• Monitoring and reporting mechanism (Knight, 2006).

The role of mobile libraries in supporting education

Libraries and information centers do not exist in vacuum. There is always a justifiable justification for their operations. The following reasons therefore express the importance of mobile libraries:

• Continue to serve other schools as schools progress toward developing their own school library and information service;

• The school library resource is regularly updated by mobile library service as the selection is based on the needs of the schools visited;

• This service is useful, especially in rural schools when there is a lack of great organizational capacity and lack of space to create a proper library;

• Participate in the sharing of resources that enable students and teachers to access a wide range of resources;

• Helping teachers grow pupils to become information literate and develop reading skills;

• Have other learning interventions, such as music, arts, science and technology learning programs as part of the school library and information services program, which will benefit all students.

• Target user groups and their information needs in remote communities or other regions where library services are currently unable to stimulate or meet the demand for information;

• Extend their services to reach the physically handicapped;

• Mobile libraries provide reading material for different schools based on their different learning needs. Picture books with less complex illustrations, words and information books with many photographs are selected for a class at the preparatory level;

• They play an important role in times of crisis by leading many stakeholders such as citizens, experts and policy makers by providing reliable sources of information;

• Building lasting relationships with the school community through establishing a sustainable partnership by helping to encourage the habit and culture of reading in communities;

• Provide reading sessions and user education programs, especially when new users are introduced to their services; and

• Provide reference material such as lexicon, dictionaries, maps, atlases and clocks for extensive sources of information and references for their patrons (Beenham and Harrison, 1990).

Challenges in running mobile library services

Mobile library operations are not without challenges. These range from a number of issues as mentioned below:

• Resources are limited and there is a chance that the appropriate resources may be selected first by another school. Mobile library is medium is size and reference in nature and most times can accommodate less than fifty (50) users at a time. It also lacks certain facilities such as the bibliographic instructions and the library catalog which are the keys to the library’s possession;

• The lack of space to read and time to explore the mobile library is not enough. Depending on the size of the school population and the duration of the visit, each class is given thirty (30) minutes to use the library. As the number of children and classes increases in schools, the amount of time and space to cater for everyone is reduced;

• More, lack of adequately trained and qualified staff is another challenge when operating the mobile library. Many times the mobile library staff lacks the required librarianship qualification;

• Financial constraints also pose a challenge to operating a mobile library. A mobile library needs a recurring revenue and expenditure budget to expand to its depleted resources over a set period of time due to its constant use by users;

• Managing the service can be problematic as schools need to be held accountable for borrowed items;

• Distance and terrain pose their own challenges, especially as service is limited by the number of buses serving rural areas;

• Buses can also be a target for thieves, especially if they carry computers; and

• Donated buses already adapted from other countries must be serviced locally, while there is also an additional attendant on the cost of import clearance.

In fact, a mobile library service is one of the most important services that library and information services use to meet their goals and objectives. There is great potential in using the mobile library services as a support for local or stationary library services, but there are also many challenges. Therefore, there should be commitment from the government of nations, education administrators, librarians and national library administrations to achieve quality and sustainability in the development and improvement of mobile library services. Only through their active participation will mobile library services transform the teaching and learning process of education.