By Sue Botos
As Rocky River Public Library Director Nick Cronin says, when outreach librarians Rosemary Ward and Stacey Hayman are on the job, they’re “in their element.” A Honda Element, that is.
In the late mornings and early afternoons the vehicle, adorned with colorful book decals, can be seen rolling through the streets of the city delivering books, DVDs and other library materials to homebound patrons who otherwise would not have access to the library.
Ward, who has been with the library for 23 years, the last 17 with outreach, explained, during a recent interview, that the program began as an informal arrangement between the library and residents confined to their homes. Then, in the early ’90s, it became an official program of the library.
“Any service you can get at the library, we try to bring to the patrons,” said Hayman, who works in the adult services department in addition to outreach. Ward took on the program full time after the retirement of the previous mobile librarian five years ago.
There is no such thing as a typical day for the librarians, who make deliveries Monday through Friday to 76 patrons living in their own homes, apartments or in assisted living or nursing homes. They range in age from their late ’60s to a 103-year-old Harbor Court resident. “She likes books on CD,” Ward said of the woman, whose tastes span just about every genre.
Usually, the librarians make four to five stops each trip. But during a busy time of year, such as the holidays, they can make up to seven or eight deliveries. “But that’s pushing the limit. You can’t talk with people when you make that many stops,” said Ward. She said that during this day’s rounds, a woman showed off her floral arrangements. Sometimes, clients bake cookies, and once, Ward recalled, she was chased by a patron’s dog.
This personal interaction, according to Ward and Hayman, is just as important to some patrons as the materials they drop off. “The best part is making people happy. I’ve learned so much. They’ve taught so much about how to live my life,” Ward noted. She added that while some clients are fond of telling stories and visiting, others just receive their materials at the door.
One client, Gail, commented by phone that she discovered the program when she moved to Ohio in 2009. She said that during a book talk at her residence, she found out about the outreach program. “I’ve always enjoyed books,” she said, adding that she likes “everything except science fiction.” She said she receives new materials every three to four weeks.
Gail added that one of the best parts about the service is no due dates. “When you’re finished, you just call the library and they set up a pickup,” she explained.
“The library is very open and very supportive. We get a lot of new things,” Ward said. She added that any item available for circulation can be delivered through outreach. The department is also responsible for the library’s large-print book selection.
“So many people are heartbroken when they can no longer read regular print. Large-print books and books on CD are so helpful. They provide so much entertainment. They (the patrons) feel engaged in the world,” Ward commented.
Ward said the program is funded through the local library tax, and that the Honda was donated three years ago by the library foundation. “We used to use the library maintenance vehicle. It’s a large van, and in the winter we could hardly get up steep driveways,” she recalled.
While other library systems offer outreach programs, Ward stated, “We truly feel our service is the most personalized. We keep records and know their favorite authors,” she noted. She said that some patrons even request certain readers for books on CD.
“We want to make sure we put in their hands something they truly enjoy,” Ward said.