In the Library and Information Science program here at SU, we spend a lot of time discussing the importance of outreach. We brainstorm strategies we can employ to attract patrons to the library, and we ask ourselves questions like, how can a librarian organize and market innovative programs, services, and collections that are bound to draw in community members?

Excitingly, here in Syracuse, the conversation around outreach at public libraries seems to be switching gears … literally. For this month’s Library Friday, I visited the Northern Onondaga Public Library (NOPL) at Brewerton to learn about their “Pop-Up Library” on wheels, and their mission to take outreach outside the library. I had the pleasure of interviewing branch manager, Nancy Boisseau, as well as outreach librarian (and recent iSchool alum), Jennifer Tolley, to learn more about this project, from inception to completion.

Whose idea was it to create the Pop-Up library, and how did the idea evolve into action?

According to Nancy and Jennifer, “Let’s make a Pop-Up library!” is all NOPL director, Kate McCaffrey, had to say in order to gain the support necessary to get the project up and running.

When I first sat down to talk to Nancy and Jen, Nancy held up a large map of the local area and explained how all three NOPL branches—Cicero, Brewerton, and North Syracuse—were very close together, leaving the surrounding areas with a lengthy drive in order to enjoy library services. “We felt like Clay, in particular, was shortchanged, and we wanted to do something that was less expensive and more creative than building a fourth library.”

After Kate planted the seed in her colleagues’ heads early last year, the process was very fast-moving. Nancy explained, “All of the decision-making took place in a matter of weeks. The board immediately supported the project, and when we brought our plans to a local truck shop, they were excited to help bring the idea to life, too. The truck was delivered to us in July 2016 and ever since then, outreach has been our main focus.”

“Some people are stuck in that mindset that libraries exist to house books, and they ask why we are leaving the building. We like to reply, “This is the library coming to you.”

How has the community responded?

“Really well. There was some confusion about the Pop-Up library, but no negativity,” Jen offered. “Some people are stuck in that mindset that libraries exist to house books, and they ask why we are leaving the building. We like to reply, “This is the library coming to you.””

When I asked Nancy and Jen how they decide which materials to take with them in the van, they replied, “It depends on where we’re going. If we know we are going somewhere where there will be people of all ages, we choose a little bit of everything. On the other hand, if an event is catered towards children, a children’s librarian will come for the ride and the literature will be child-centered. We even have easily transportable bench seating that we take out of the van and set up outside for story time.”

Impressively, the van holds three hundred or so items and allows librarians to sign patrons up for library cards remotely. To add, the truck is fully equipped with an actual scanner, for scanning library cards and library material barcodes, as well as a laptop.

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What are the benefits of mobile library services? And what are the challenges you’ve experienced in running it so far?

“I met people who didn’t even know we had a library. So spreading awareness about who we are, where we are located, and what we can offer to the local community is a huge benefit,” Jen shared.

The one challenge Nancy mentioned was scheduling staff to be in the library while some librarians are out driving in the Pop-Up library.

How do NOPL market the Pop-Up library and spread awareness about its awesomeness?

“Well, we have met with the parks and recreation departments in both the Towns of Clay and Cicero, and they both want to partner with us. So there will be cross-marketing happening when they plan and organize events.”

In Jen’s new role as outreach librarian, she explained, “I typically call the YMCA, senior centers, and daycare centers to pitch the Pop-Up Library, and they gladly accept the visit.”

The Cicero parade, family festivals, church events, soccer games— the Pop-Up library has frequented all of these functions and more in its one year of existence. Excitingly, NOPL plans to become more active on social media platforms, like Instagram and Twitter, to update community members about where the Pop-Up library is day to day. Be sure to stop by when NOPL’s Pop-Up library visits the Syracuse University campus during National Library Week in April! Stay tuned for email updates about where and when!