Bringing the Library to You
Home Services at Madison Public Library have been around for over 50 years - the service dates back to 1961 - and its purpose is to help provide books to those who are unable to come into library spaces. The program is run by librarian Mary Fahndrich and clerk Nancy Keiser, who provide hundreds of books each month to older adults and those with developmental disabilities around Madison. Typically, they are aided by a number of volunteers who help pull selections for deliveries and who deliver bags of books and materials to homebound patrons. Mary Fahndrich has been working at Madison Public Library for 23 years, but made the transition to her current position as a Community Engagement Librarian just four years ago. When she first started doing Home Services, there were existing relationships in place, but she has expanded the service significantly through her efforts to meet people where they are.
“Since I started I’ve been able to go out and about, taking pamphlets to people and meeting them one-on-one. Our work at the library is about more than just bringing people to us,” said Fahndrich. “The library is more than just a building, and I see my work as a chance to bring the library out into the community.”
Nancy also finds the work of doing Home Service very rewarding.
"I really enjoy providing a variety of library materials to people who are often facing a less independent lifestyle and more challenges. I especially like that the library system has such a broad and diverse collection that we can almost always fulfill patron requests," said Keiser.
Books on Board
Mary and her team do this in three different ways -- through the facility program, the individual mail program and the individual homebound delivery program. The facility program serves Retirement Homes and Assisted Living, Health Care and Adult Day Care Facilities. Each facility receives a delivery of materials once a month, and those deliveries vary in size depending on how each facility is set up. Smaller places may only want 30 books per month, while larger facilities like Oakwood Village Prairie Ridge regularly receive 250 books each month.
“The facilities deliveries are based on an informal profile we have on file. We work with a staff person at each facility or a resident volunteer to find out what types of items they’d like to receive each month,” said Fahndrich. “So it might be something like ‘We want 100 large print books and 100 regular print books every month and of those large print books we want 20 of them to be mysteries, 15 to be non-fiction, five of them to be westerns, etc.’”
The Home Service team also helps fulfill more specific requests for facilities. MARC, a Madison-based organization that supports adults with developmental disabilities, does themes throughout the month using materials provided by Madison Public Library.
“They send me a theme each month, so it’s really fun because I get to go through the stacks and find books and DVDs that match their theme,” said Fahndrich. “Next week we’re sending them books about winter, as well as self-help books for the new year. I mean, the best thing about being a librarian is pawing through all those books, right? We get to do that for them, which is really fun.”
Melissa Loerke, the activities coordinator at MARC, says the individuals supported by them love receiving these boxes each month, as well.
“We are able to engage individuals with new materials they haven’t read or seen before. These materials enhance the experiences of our theme weeks and they get excited to see what is in each month’s box,” said Loerke. “This has helped our organization offer something new that hasn’t been offered previously and grows the partnership between the library and our organization that was already there.”
Items are packed up at Central Library and sent out via South Central Library Service’s delivery to different facilities each Wednesday. On average, each facility receives between 75-100 books each month. Home Services has been working with 27 different facilities since the COVID-19 pandemic started. Before the pandemic began, the two-person Home Services team were assisted by five volunteers who came into the library to help pull materials for each facility. Since the libraries closed, and volunteers have been unable to assist with Home Services, it has fallen to just Mary and Nancy to pull books and other library materials for all the facilities. Thankfully, another library department stepped up to help them keep the curated deliveries coming.
“The circulation crew - who handle everything that comes into the building, check everything in and reshelve everything - they have a little bit of extra time, so in lieu of volunteers, we have some hourly staff who have stepped up to help us, which is really great,” said Fahndrich. “It’s that mentality of we’re all in this together. They reached out and said, ‘We know you’re up and running again and if you need any help we’re happy to help.’”
Quarantining with a Good Book
One of the largest facilities the library serves through the Home Service program is Oakwood Village Prairie Ridge. They get a delivery of 250 books each month and even host a book club using books from the library. They use Madison Public Library materials to run their own small library internally for assisted living residents called the Book Nook. Both staff and residents agree that having books available helps enrich their lives.
“Everybody looks forward to when new books come in - the public library books are shelved right in the center where everybody walks by and can see them. They are very highly used,” said Oakwood Village resident Donna Ankley. ”For myself, it is so easy to get the books that I want. Even if it takes time, I always know that they are coming - Nancy never lets me down! I always have books to read, I am never bored!”
“Books and reading are an important part of life and without this service we would not have the options of books and/or the ease of the service/delivery,” said Life Enrichment Supervisor Christa Iverson. “It allows our residents access to books without leaving the campus...I feel as if during the pandemic, even more than before, this service is important as our residents do not and/or cannot get to the library.”
The pandemic has made many aspects of Home Services difficult to achieve. The individual mail home service has continued as usual thanks to the United States Postal Service, who delivers large print and audiobooks for free to those who are visually impaired or blind. Once readers are done, they simply drop items back in the mail and USPS returns them to the library - all for free!
“We serve a fair amount of people that way because, as it turns out, most people who are older adults tend to need large print, and if they get to the point of losing sight completely, audiobooks,” said Fahndrich.
The other part of individual home service, which serves those who want regular print books, magazines, DVDs, CDs, etc., has been harder to keep up and running. In pre-COVID times, Mary and Nancy would put together bags of materials at Central library, send them out to neighborhood libraries and have neighborhood volunteers pick them up and deliver them to homebound patrons. That network of volunteers was no longer able to operate once quarantining began to keep them safe and healthy.
“I reached out to everyone who would normally get a home delivery through our volunteers and said ‘That’s not really an option right now, but would you be willing to read large print books instead and we’ll mail them to you?” And a lot of people said ‘Absolutely, I don’t care if it’s a large print book instead of a regular print book, I’ll take it!” said Fahnrich “Unfortunately, we did have a number of people who were getting a format that we just can’t send through the mail. One example is a patron who typically gets a magazine for every day of the month, and I can’t send 30 magazines through the mail. So, we - the staff - just deliver to him. We have a handful of people that we’re still just delivering to (safely, of course) on our own. It’s what we do, right? We’re not going to say no to somebody. We’ll figure out a way to get the service to people.”
Home Service recipients have noted how essential the service is to them, particularly during this year of extraordinary circumstances.
“It’s especially important at this time when we have to be socially distanced and we can’t be around other people,” said Norma Busser, a resident at Oakwood Village Prairie Ridge. “My two outlets are walking outside (because I love nature) and reading mysteries. It’s just a wonderful escape. I so look forward to getting those books each month.”