A library on wheels
“'Is that a taco truck?’ Everyone thinks I’m selling ice cream or smoothies because of the bright colors. ‘Is that a party bus?’ I’ve heard everything,” Jacqueline Stevens, the Dane County Library Clerk and one of the Dream Bus drivers, laughed. “People peek in, and when they see the collection, they get really excited and keep coming back. The kids in these neighborhoods know by now, and they are the best at spreading the word.”
Visits to the Dream Bus look differently in the time of COVID-19, but the joy the bright purple bus brings - designed by Bubbler Artist Rodney Lambright II and kids from around Madison - is still the same.
First rolled out in 2019, the Dream Bus is a partnership between Madison Public Library (MPL) and the Dane County Library Service (DCLS) designed to bring a library collection to Madison’s peripheral neighborhoods that lack easy access to a physical library.
This summer, Tracy Herold Director of Dane County Library Service, has coordinated the Dream Bus schedule to align with the MMSD’s free lunch pick up sites in the five neighborhoods usually on its route. You can see the full schedule on our website. The bus is too small to allow for safe social distancing, but the Dream Bus drivers Jacqueline Stevens, Ricardo Marroquin, and a rotating crew of Madison Public librarians are distributing library materials to kids from a table outside.
“The kids are sad that they can’t get on the bus, but they’re happy to still be able to get books. And it makes my day to see them,” Jacqueline told us. She’s been driving the Dream Bus for over a year and knows most of the kids’ names who run up to greet her at her regular stops - stopping at a safe distance to wave, rather than coming in for a hug.
And they are excited to see us! It’s been really fun for the six Madison Public librarians to tag along and pass out books. “A little girl at Lake View Elementary was there with her mom to pick up a lunch, but when she realized we were from the library she was literally jumping up and down and sprinted over to get a book,” MPL Librarian Robin Amado told us. “They can’t see our smiles with our masks on, but we’re getting really good at great happy big waves.”
While there isn’t the option for browsing and choosing titles, DCLS Library Assistant Amy Winkleman has made our jobs really easy by filling the Dream Bus with amazing, high interest titles. Madison Public Library has been able to supplement the collection with summer give away books from our One Book at a Time community grant. With books coming in brightly colored We Read/Leemos bags provided by the Madison Public Library Foundation and Steve Stricker American Family Insurance Foundation and designed by Bubbler Artist Emily Balsley as part of the We Read/Leemos summer reading promotion. Each bag also contains a craft, donated by Mary Driscoll, the Dane County Library Services Outreach Librarian.
We Read Madison
“Woah! Dad look at this!” one little boy at Badger Rock community center exclaimed as he reached in his bag and pulled out Smile, a graphic novel, by Raina Telgemeier. “I couldn’t even get this at school, the list was too long!”
Kids and families don’t even have to check out books - all of the books are checked out to a special COVID-19 card for barrier free lending. We just let kids and families know they can bring them back to us any time, and it's ok if they forget, we’ll still give them more books the next week.
And they do come back. One mom at Badger Rock community center picks up 40 books a week, as well as 20 lunches and distributes them to the kids on her street. She’s there waiting for us every Tuesday ready with her returns. “The kids look forward to Tuesday,” she told us. “You’re our secondary book mobile!”
Several of the Dream Bus sites also coincide with MSCR day camps for kids where classes take turns coming out at Lake View, Sandburg, and Lincoln Elementaries to grab books. The teachers, as well as kids, are able to grab titles.
“One MSCR teacher at Sandburg thanked us for being there. She said she's been reading a book with her group - then having them watch the movie version.. She thinks they really like it and it's very motivating,” MPL librarian Tracy Moore told us. “She mentioned a teacher doing the same thing for her when she was in fourth grade and wanted to create the same excitement for the kids she's working with now.”
It’s taken a little while to gain momentum, but the word is spreading. At Allied Dr. learning center, a mom hopped out of her car and came jogging up. “They have lunches at the window over there,” MPL librarian Rebecca Millerjohn told her, “and we have books…”
“Oh I know!” the mom said, “I’m here for the books!” While her little boy stuck his head out the window and yelled, “Mom! Get something good!” Anyone is welcome to swing by and get something good at any of the Dream Bus sites through August 14th.