Advances in the development of technology have been moving ahead at a pace which baffles many of us. As we acquire a new device or equipment, new upgrades to existing systems are being rolled out and prototypes of the next generation our devices are often ready for release.  Consequently, as consumers, the information overload that we experience in the face of rapid technological changes forces us at times to continuously improve our technology skills.

For libraries, whose services today are very much intertwined with developments in technologies, from Web 2.0 applications to advanced library management systems and techno savvy customers, we are often called to ensure that our library services are at a place where we can meet and match the level of technical services demanded by our clients. What however, happens to those of our clients who for reasons such as, aging, low literacy, unemployment and more so, geographic spread across rural areas who are unable to both access or keep up with advances in technology? How can we expose them to digital services like that offered by physical and virtual libraries?  Better yet, how can we reach and serve them where they are?


In my library’s thrust to shrink the digital divide which affects rural clients within the geographic areas which the library is expected to serve, the Digital Bookmobile service is being introduced to serve those dispersed clients. This fully equip library vehicle will serve persons in rural areas who are unable to access physical or virtual library services in their area due predominantly to the great distance to the closest library and absence of computer and internet access in their area.

The concept of the Mobile Library Service or Book Mobile as it is sometimes called is not new to rural areas. These libraries on wheels have been delivering much needed library services inclusive of registration, loans, information literacy, outreach programmes and community engagement for generations.  Today, in a new incarnation of the traditional service, libraries serving rural areas have been investing in Digital Bookmobiles, fully equip with the latest, innovative technologies to assist in not only providing traditional library services, but to introduce and expose rural clients in to new technological innovations.


The goals and objectives this Digital Bookmobile service are determined the overall goals and objectives of my library in relation to its provision of public library services. The following are adapted from the (Seattle Public Library [SPL], n.d.) since they are in alignment with my organization’s goals and objectives:

Goal 1: Empower Rural Communities by Decreasing the Digital Divide


  • Deliver library services and resources to people where they are
  • Adapt mobile library spaces and services to support rural communities

Goal 2: Expand Access to Information and Ideas


  • Provide rural areas with access to digital material
  • Develop collections that meets community needs and expectations
  • Provide innovative improvements in information access and delivery

Goal 3: Encourage A Passion for Reading, Learning, Creating and Experimenting


  • Integrate learning into daily life
  • Provide free instruction and programs to support personal growth
  • Encourage hands on, practical, creative experimentation

Goal 4: Foster a Culture of Innovation Among Clients and Staff


  • Build library staff and institutional capacity to innovate
  • Use rigorous analysis to provide a positive user experience
  • Communicate and celebrate progress
  • Partner with communities to improve rural library services (SPL, n.d.)


  • CONVINCEClients in rural areas with limited or no access to traditional library services and the latest eLibrary services
  • THAT BY – Accessing services of the Digital Bookmobile with its roving digital exhibit
  • THEY WILL – Have the opportunity to explore, learn about and use new technologies and mobile devices; and access interactive displays, eResources, online information services and innovative breakout spaces
  • WHICH WILL – Expose them in a creative way to new innovations, new sources of information, opportunities for learning from and interacting with their libraries, and in so doing, reduce the digital divide for rural clients
  • BECAUSE – As libraries we are responsible for providing equal access to information services and resources to all our clients wherever they are located.


Planning for a Digital Bookmobile service must take into consideration the history and purpose of related traditional services. Introduced primarily to serve dispersed rural populations in an age of limited technologies, this new concept of a digital service embraces as many aspects of technology and services inherent in modern library services than can be embodied within a roving vehicle. Warburton (2013) in a Library Journal article “Delivering the Library” discussed the relevance of Bookmobile services today and the transformation of the service to meet the challenges of the digital age. He states that “as instruments of community outreach,” Bookmobiles factor significantly on a library’s strategic planning today. Additionally, many Bookmobile services are now taking advantage of new, trending digital devices such as “iPads, ereaders, ebooks, and computer stations” as part of their service delivery.  In a discussion of participatory library service, Schwartz (2013) followed this concept in her article which envisioned the library as a lab for creative thinking and expression. While the focus of this article was on the physical/virtual library, it can also be expanded to suit a new model for Digital Bookmobiles.

The Overdrive Digital Bookmobile is one such initiative that shows the possibilities for a new digital library service on wheels incorporating the latest technologies. This roving caravan is divided into six sections each providing a unique service and customer experience. The sections as follows: Welcome and Orientation, Audiobook Alley, eBook Experience, Gadgets Gallery, Digital Catalog, and Video Lounge. This innovative space introduces a new model for library service that libraries serving rural areas can consider. The following are an additional list of resources that can be reviewed when planning for a Digital Bookmobile service:


The responsibility of the setting the mission, guidelines and policies for the Digital Bookmobile service will be coordinated by the Head of the Public Library service, in collaboration with the Information Technology (IT) Unit based on the strategic goals and objectives of the parent organization.

Mission: While the organization’s mission will define this Digital Bookmobile library, I believe that this service requires a defined Mission Statement of its own to direct the path and purpose of the service. I propose the following from the Overdrive Digital Bookmobile website:

“To help libraries … promote the digital services available to their communities” Digital Bookmobile (n.d.).

Policy: The organization’s public library and IT policies are the main policies to guide the services of the Digital Bookmobile service. Internal policies for consideration will include:

  • Registration
  • Loan
  • Collection development
  • User services
  • Social media
  • Mobile device
  • Acceptable use – Computer and Internet
  • Information security
  • Human resource
  • Health and safety
  • Vehicle maintenance

Examples of policies that will be useful for a generic Bookmobile service which can be adapted for a digital service can be found on the following sites:

Guidelines: Since Bookmobile services are as relevant today as it was from its inception, the American library Association (ALA), International Federation of Library Associations (IFLA) and many other bodies continue to provide guidelines and support for this service.

ALA (n.d.) in its Handbook for Mobile Services Staff, provides the following guidelines:

  • Bookmobile vehicle specifications
  • Maintenance schedules
  • Information for outfitting the vehicles
  • Outreach training resources
  • Checklists to support the services when on the road.

IFLA (2010) provides guidelines for libraries providing a mobile service covering issues such as:

  • Government/organization responsibility to support library services to disadvantage communities
  • Vehicle specifications and considerations
  • Staffing matters including training
  • Collections to suit the needs of the communities
  • Furniture and equipment required for a Bookmobile service


Initial funding for the Digital Bookmobile service can be accessed from the organization’s current budgetary allocations for the existing Bookmobile services. This allocation will cover book and non-book collections, and staff training. In a very dated article about funding for Bookmobile which is still very relevant today for a new digital unit, Little (n.d.) broke down the cost into both variable and fixed costs per vehicle. Little proposed the following costs for a Bookmobile unit:

Fixed Costs:

  • Depreciation or Replacement – Vehicle, Equipment
  • License – Vehicles, Equipment
  • Insurance – Vehicle, Employee
  • Labor – Librarians, Drivers, Technical staff

Variable Costs:

  • Gasoline and Oil
  • Repairs and Maintenance
  • Tires
  • Other – Issues not listed that may arise (Little, n.d.).

Since however, as stated by Warburton (2013) that “the average annual cost of keeping a Bookmobile on the road is about $200,000,” to offset that cost, it might be in the organization’s best interest to seek funding for acquisition and new customized vehicles, furniture and equipment, IT equipment, mobile devices, and gadgets from donations, and grants from corporate partners and grant funding agencies.  Under the Library Services and Technology Act (LSTA) the library can seek funding for the Digital Bookmobile unit as a technology initiative, and many of these grants are administered by the Institute of Museum and Library Services.


The launch of a new Digital Bookmobile service is expected to be completed in one calendar year from January to December 2018 during which time tasks will be conducted concurrently and/or sequentially where possible. This project is dependent on the following action items:

  • Develop and submit proposal for new service – January 2018
  • Identify contractors for supply and outfitting of Bookmobile unit – 2 weeks
  • Identify Librarians, Technical Assistants, Drivers to staff the unit – 2 weeks
  • Identify, source and test new technology for use by library clients – 3 months
  • Acquire and outfit of the new Digital Bookmobile vehicle – 9 months
  • Develop a vehicle maintenance schedule – 3 weeks
  • Acquire, install and test of computer equipment – 4 months
  • Acquire library management system software licenses – 3 months
  • Install and test of and library management system – 1 month
  • License and insure new vehicle – 1 week
  • Acquire and process book, non-book items and mobile devices – 5 months
  • Develop a training schedule and material – 1 week
  • Conduct staff training in the use of the new vehicle and varied mobile technologies – 1 month
  • Pilot run of new service – 1 week
  • Handover of new Digital Bookmobile service – December 2018

Approvals: All initiatives will be signed off by following departments: Public Library, Fleet, Manager, Finance, Procurement, Legal, IT Unit, Project, Marketing, Human Resource, Library Director, Board of Directors. If the process is queried by any department, additional discussions as required will occur to reach a resolution. In the event of further delays, the Board of Directors will make the final decision.


Staffing would be allocated from the existing staffing complement and would be compensated at their current salary rates for a 40-hour work week. All staff will be trained in the use and maintenance of the vehicle and equipment, and preference will be given to staff with proven technical competencies as identified by their academic qualifications and work based experience. Technical support for the computer hardware and software vehicle will be provided by the IT department and one technician will be assigned exclusively to the applications used on the Digital Bookmobile. Additional technical support will be provided through contractual arrangements with the various vendors.

Additional time outside working hours for all staff working on the Digital Bookmobile both on the road and in house will be compensated at time and a half for every hour over the 40-hour period for the first 2 hours and double time after the additional two hours. Overtime will be activated where circumstances dictated that the Digital Bookmobile be on the road for extended periods beyond normal working hours. These circumstances are as follows:

  • Cross country tours and exhibitions
  • Natural disasters – fire, storms, earthquake, snow storms, floods etc.
  • Vehicle breakdown due to normal wear and tear
  • Vandalism by forces external to the library
  • Illness of staff while on a service visit
  • Request to services from the communities served that would occur outside of the normal working hours

Training for this Technology or Service:  

Training will be provided to librarians, technical assistants, computer technicians and driver/operators. Training material will be developed by the Training Unit of the Human Resource Department in association with a cross functional team from the Public Library and IT Departments. The vendors will also prepare and administer training as per equipment support agreements. This training will also be coordinated by the Human Resource Department. Training will be scheduled throughout the project period on the completion/implementation of each service.

Service Persons to be trained/activated
Vehicle delivered and outfitted Drivers/Operators, Librarians, Technicians, Technical Assistants
Computers, mobile technology, software and hardware licences and equipment received and installed Librarians, Technicians, Technical Assistants
Book and non-book items received and processed Librarians, Technical Assistants
Library management system installed Librarians, Technicians, Technical Assistants,

Promotion & Marketing for this Technology or Service: 

The Digital Bookmobile Service will be publicized as part of an integrated marketing and communication plan for the entire public library service. This plan will include a combination of press, social media, word of mouth advertising through individual and community groups. We also will leverage our community partnerships to promote the new service via their media. Mechanism for marketing the service include:

  • A rebranded website to promote the service
  • Stationary and other concession items to celebrate the service
  • Social media posts on internal Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Instagram, Pinterest sites.
  • Social media posts on external partner sites
  • Radio and newspaper advertisements
  • Advertisement in community newsletters and message boards
  • Banner, posters, flyers, bookmarks
  • Advertisements on digital sign boards
  • Word of mouth advertisements at schools, churches and community events
  • Creative graphic design on Digital Bookmobile vehicle


Benchmarks and performance metrics: Continuous impact analysis will be used to gauge the success of the Digital Bookmobile when in operation. Short survey instruments will be administered by staff in the field to gather patron feedback on the services provided.  Feedback sourced will include:

  • The appropriateness of collections
  • The ability of customers to use the technologies provided on the unit
  • The ability of staff to train customers in the use of the new technologies

Checklists provided in the ALA Handbook for Mobile Services and IFLA Mobile Library Guidelines will be used to ensure that all criteria for providing an effective service are adhered to. We will keep track of all site visits and capture loan, equipment usage, customer visits, vehicular issues etc. We will benchmark the models such as the Overdrive Digital Bookmobile to guide us in what is possible in technology focused Bookmobile services.

Performance metric to be used will include:

  • 100 percent uptime of vehicles and equipment,
  • 100 percent instance of community visits
  • Number of customer visits
  • Number of persons interacting with the technologies on the vehicle
  • Number of request to library service
  • Number of training conducted on a site visit

Assessment will be based on the following:

  • Has library usage increased/decreased?
  • Are more/less customers using the technologies?
  • Has information and digital literacy skills improved?
  • Are technologies and collections suited to the communities?
  • Are we reaching a mix of persons based on demographic criteria?
  • Has the new Digital Bookmobile service met the goals and objectives identified above?

Stories: I envision a service that can reach communities previously not served by a library, receiving not only traditional library service offerings, but also access to new digital media tools. I envision a well-trained, customer service oriented staff eager to share their knowledge with person in outlying districts where computer, internet and information services are non-existence or limited.  I envision socially disadvantage persons of all age groups eager to visit, participate and learn in a safe innovative, creative space.

Service Expansion: Using Overdrive’s digital model, I foresee the opportunity to expand our Bookmobile service to also provide a roving exhibition library to both rural and suburban communities within two to five years after the initial launch of the first Digital Bookmobile. This timeframe is based on the availability of funding and staff considerations for any new project.



ALA. (n.d.). Handbook for mobile services staff. Retrieved from

IFLA. (2010). Professional report no. 123: Mobile library guidelines. Retrieved from

Little, M. (n.d.). Budgeting the operation cost of Bookmobiles. Retrieved from

Overdrive Digital Bookmobile. (n.d.). Discover ebooks and more…from your library. Retrieved from


SPL. (n.d.). Goals and objectives.

Schwartz, M. (2013, September 18). Tomorrow, visualized | library by design, Fall 2013 [Weblog post].

Retrieved from

Warburton, B. (2013, September 26). Delivering the library [Weblog post]. Retrieved from



8 thoughts on “Planning Brief: DIGITAL BOOKMOBILE

  1. Wow, your goals and objectives are so specific… it’s great! I love the idea of a digital bookmobile. I also love the idea of catering to the rural community who may live far from their nearest library and the idea of providing new and refreshing digital media tools.

    • Thank You @mikaylahabibi, I got help with the goals and objectives from the Seattle Public Library so a lot of the credit goes to them. It really captured what I would like to achieve with a project like this so I felt the need to look at these goals in depth. As for my target group, this is such an important group of persons that we sometimes miss.

  2. Paula,
    I live in such a large urban area, that I have only briefly thought about the actual nuts and bolts of a bookmobile service. I had never even considered a natural disaster or an employee being ill while out on the road with the bookmobile. This was very well thought out, and a great idea!

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