California Special District asked SCCLD to explain its Homebound Services program, how it works, who it benefits, and how they work to engage with the community as effectively as possible.
Homebound Services is a program where our librarians find out the interests of an individual, profile them, and arrange to have library materials delivered to their home. The target audience is individuals in our service area who, perhaps for reasons of health or disability, are not able to visit a library. This tends to be people who are isolated for a long period of time – at least three months – and may not have family members who can support them or bring them materials.
Where did the idea for the program originate?
We are fortunate to have a strong budget as a district library – we encompass nine cities in an unincorporated county and receive relatively stable funding – so this is something we’ve been able to commit to. I’ve worked here over 20 years and we have always had this program.
Who in your community does the program benefit?
It benefits an isolated individual who wants to connect through reading – or perhaps through watching movies or even listening to music – who has an interest in library materials, and who cannot get to the library. Individuals can be of any age. We ask that their situation be at least three months in length. For these individuals it can be hard to get to the library – if not impossible – and we can bring materials to them.
According to the district, it is important to match the librarian with the customer. Why?
Because this isn’t a computer program. People have interests and I think they still love the human connection that lets someone talk about what they enjoy reading and what they don’t like reading. As we get to know the individual, our librarians are trained to try to match materials to their interests, and perhaps provide something they hadn’t even considered that they would enjoy. But again, I think it’s the connection.
I think of one individual I’ve worked with for a long time, who I don’t think liked the books I picked out for her necessarily, but she always came back and asked for more. And I think sometimes it’s that conversation and connection people yearn for. Libraries are really about community connections.
How much time do the traveling librarians spend on their visits?
It varies. It could be five minutes to thirty minutes. And if, for some reason, we can’t get to an individual’s home, we do have arrangements where we can mail the materials to them.
How does the program work to fulfill the district’s mission statement?
What the library does is provide information, reading materials, and so much more to our residents. We work to enrich their lives and satisfy their information needs. Libraries are sometimes thought of as warehouses, where we store books and you come and get them. But that, to me, is a passive role. We strive to be a great library and serve the needs of the entire community. And we don’t want to neglect those who are vulnerable and isolated and still have a need for materials.
I’ll add that we have a number of services that we use to try to reach people who are isolated – either by geography or physical ailment. We still have bookmobile services, and we still have drop-off services to institutions, where we give them a collection of materials.
What advice do you have for other library districts who may want to launch a similar program?
I think that it can be a bit frightening because you might think you’ll be overwhelmed by demand and to have such a customized service can be costly. But I think what we have found is that people really ask for this only when they really need it. And this program doesn’t just benefit the individuals, but their families too. When we care together in the community for those who are most vulnerable, we enrich everyone’s life. Our librarians who have been involved in the program, and developed relationships with participants, have stories to tell where they have benefited from that time spent with an individual.
Are there any other programs the district oversees, that interact uniquely with the community?
We have several programs that I think are on this personalized level. We do have the traditional services, where people visit the libraries, and we’re very busy. We also have a reading program, which matches volunteers to adult learners for one-on-one tutoring to improve their reading skills. And we also have conversation clubs at our libraries for people who want to practice their English skills. And we offer online academic tutoring for students. We have a number of programs that are smaller and more personalized, such as the bookmobile. Our service area is over 1,000 square miles and a lot of that territory isn’t in an urban area. I deeply believe that libraries improve the quality of life for the community. Libraries are really about community – not about books.