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Before I begin describing what exactly the Books on Wheels service is, I want to give you some context regarding the community Augusta County Library serves.

Augusta County, VA - Because Context is Important!

Augusta County, VA is located in the Shenandoah Valley near Staunton and Waynesboro. In fact, the cities of Staunton and Waynesboro are independent cities within the boundaries of Augusta County. We are the second-largest county in the Commonwealth of Virginia coming in at 971 square miles (Pittsylvania County is the largest at 978 square miles). As of July 1, 2022, the population estimate for the whole county comes in at around 78,000 people (Census Bureau, 2023). The population in the 20 ZCTA areas of the county ranges from 283 people in the Deerfield area (Census Bureau, 2020) to just around 11,000 people in the Stuarts Draft area (Census Bureau, 2020).

Augusta County Library (ACL) has seven locations strategically located across the county, with the equivalent of 16 full-time positions and 10 part-time positions. When determining whether folks live within a ten-mile radius of a library, the answer becomes a little tricky. If you take a map of the county and draw radius circles around each location, the answer is yes! (The exception is the northernmost part of the county which is primarily the George Washington National Forest). If you take into consideration the fact that a lot of the terrain is mountainous and access to a main road may be limited, the answer is no.  

Ten Mile Radius Distance from Each Augusta County Library Location

Augusta County Public Schools has a total of 18 schools (9 elementary schools, 4 middle schools, and 5 high schools), all of which are accredited. For the 2023-2024 school year, it was recently announced that 14 out of 18 of the schools (78%) will be participating in the Community Eligibility Provision (R. Abernathy, personal communication, July 26, 2023), meaning that lunch and breakfast will be provided to all students at no cost, without having to apply for the program. The CEP is only available for schools whose student base has a high percentage of individuals who financially qualify for free or reduced lunch. 

Having said all this, some of the challenges in terms of access to resources, especially over the summer for elementary-aged children include the following: 

  • Travel time to the nearest library 
  • Availability of transportation (there is very minimal public transportation in the more heavily populated areas of the county, and none in the more remote areas) 
  • The additional cost of travel, outside of caregivers traveling to work to get to the library 
  • And being able to get to the library during normal operating hours 

The question then became, how do we get books into the hands of kiddos who need resources to practice and either maintain or increase their reading skills over the summer? 

How it Started!

While we here at Augusta County Library would love to take credit for the Books on Wheels program, it was actually brought to the Library’s attention by Meredith Boggs, a Reading Specialist at North River Elementary School in 2019. Boggs wanted to find a way to get resources into the hands of struggling readers over the course of the summer and modeled her approach after a program she participated in in Watauga, NC called the Reading and Rolling Program. Boggs graciously coordinated the process of identifying volunteers to make the book deliveries, identifying students at their school who would benefit from the program. Library staff was responsible for creating reader advisory surveys for the students to identify high-interest, age-appropriate materials for students. Deliveries occurred every two weeks over the course of the summer, for a total of four deliveries for each student. Volunteers would pick up the books at the library, deliver a bag of 10 books to students, and pick up the books from the previous delivery. At the end of the summer, volunteers would make one last trip to pick up the last delivery of books, so families did not have to travel to a library to return the materials.

The Fishersville Branch of Augusta County Library System

In 2019, the program served 16 children and delivered 640 books. The 2020 iteration of the program added students from Cassell Elementary School and additional teachers and volunteers to deliver books to a total of 37 students over the summer, with 1480 books having been delivered.   

After a COVID surge, and the introduction of students attending in-person classes part of the time, the program took a small hiatus in 2021 as ACL locations reopened fully with the addition of outdoor programming in April 2021.

In 2022 we were back at it! For this round of the program, ACL, unfortunately, did not have the support of volunteers to make the deliveries or somebody to make connections with students. Instead, we relied on our relationships with reading specialists at North River and Wilson Elementary Schools. We asked reading specialists if they were interested in partnering with us on this program and all they had to do was identify 10 students who would benefit from the service, send the information and application home with them so families could register and provide their information. Once the information was returned to the school, the reading specialist would share that information with the Youth Services Manager at ACL to begin coordinating library cards, book selection, and book delivery. Staff delivered 680 books to 17 kids. We sent out an electronic survey after the program to gather feedback so that we could improve our processes and determine whether or not the program was worth continuing on our own if we were unable to locate volunteers who were willing to make deliveries. The short answer… YES! It was worth it to continue!

How it’s going?

Now we are in the summer of 2023. While we had great success in previous years in reaching a good number of students, we wanted to be more intentional about the schools we decided to target. Have just conducted a needs assessment of the county for the creation of our strategic plan, we had a lot of data that could use to help determine which areas of the county to prioritize and focus on. We identified four elementary schools to target based on the number of students who were identified as economically disadvantaged, paired with demographic information beyond the school that indicated a high level of need in that part of the community.  

 Staff reached out to the reading specialists at the four schools and limited each school to 10 students. 40 students registered for the program, and we just delivered our 1600th book and will begin picking up materials as school begins in early August. On average, staff have driven about 200 miles a week picking up and dropping off books.  

What’s Next?

While this program has been a great success, we are currently at capacity. We do plan on continuing to prioritize and support the Books on Wheels program during future summers and have documented our process, so in the future, as we have staff changes, we can continue this important program.  we have learned some lessons and are asking some questions:

  • We are going to spread the joy of book delivery amongst staff in the future. This year, we had one dedicated person to provide the book deliveries two times a week for two months. This has been a positive experience for multiple reasons, one being able to see the breadth of the county and the challenges that community members face in gaining access to resources. By spreading the book deliveries amongst multiple staff, they will also have the opportunity to observe these challenges, get an idea for community places in remote areas, and potential opportunities for making library resources and services more accessible.  
  • We will be reaching out to the reading specialists in the fall to determine whether or not we can obtain aggregated information about participant’s reading levels during their last assessment in the Spring, and their first assessment in the Fall to determine if the program has had an impact on reading level and summer slide. 
  • Many of our smaller locations do not have the capacity to support this level of items to check out. This then brings up the question of how can we ensure the collections at those remote locations are able to meet the needs of the specific communities they serve. 
  • We have learned what our capacity is over the summer, the busiest time of the year! So, how can we replicate this service during the rest of the year, with a different target audience, such as homebound seniors? (21.4% of the population is over 65 and 14.6% of the total population living with a disability (Census Bureau, 2020)) 

We are excited about the possibilities this program has opened up in terms of providing access to library resources in our community. One of the top priorities that has been identified through the strategic planning process is to increase accessibility to library resources and services by understanding the unique challenges of Augusta County residents. The Books on Wheels initiative has allowed us to try some things out and to take lessons learned from those experiences to broaden our reach to other parts of our community! 

Dr. Jennifer Brown, Director, Augusta County Library

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