The Library Techmobile: “This is not just a bus. It’s a movement” – Estella Pyfrom
Infinite learning is about bringing new and continuing education, creating instead of consuming, and community engagement for patrons. It’s about making learning available everywhere. This made me think of ways in which libraries are reaching communities on their doorsteps and mobilizing these opportunities. Much like library makerspaces whose main initiatives are to provide functional open spaces for creative learning and collaboration, library techmobiles are doing very much the same. As outlined in “The Digital Shift”, there are parallels between makerspace and roving techmobile goals:
- Foster play and exploration
- Facilitate informal learning opportunities
- Nurture peer-to-peer training
- Work with community members as true partners, not as users or patrons
- Develop a culture of creating as opposed to consuming (Britton, 2012).
These book-turned-techmobiles are reaching out to “technology deserts” often lower-income neighborhoods with more minority and immigrant residents (Mayor’s Press Office, 2015). These roving computer labs come to city parks, churches, youth groups, and communities with services ranging from beaming wifi hotspots, opportunities for young students to play with technology, coding lessons, computer access for the homeless, and workshops (Pyatetsky, 2015).
Techmobile, San Francisco Public Library (SFPL)’s roaming computer lab is a book-free bus bringing instructors to various San Francisco communities including 35 childcare facilities per month, the SF Zoo, four city parks, and community organizations like Homeless Prenatal to offer lessons in basic computer applications, coding, Lego robotics, and 3-D printing as well as general computer access (Witteveen, 2017 & Berdick, 2015).
In addition to Techmobile, SFPL also has a bus called The Library on Wheels dedicated to offering services to seniors, and making monthly visits to approximately 30 senior homes and centers (SFPL). The Library on Wheels brings digital literacy to seniors by providing “Learning & Tech Programs” for basic computer assistance and a “Genealogy 101” class that teaches computer research skills. In a study about senior tech programming, it was found that digital literacy opportunities for seniors greatly impacted their lives from bridging intergenerational gaps, access to long-distance communication with family, and the skills to access more library materials online such as e-books (Meyer, 2015).
One of the most famous buses is 78-year-old Estella Pyfrom’s Brilliant Bus which takes technology education to underserved communities in Florida; a roving computer lab that offers computer access to young students (Berdick, 2015). A former teacher, Pyfrom noticed how many students were in danger of being left behind in an age when having a computer at home or reliable transportation to a computer was a necessity for completing homework, but was not a reality for many. She bought a bus with her own savings in 2011, filled it with computers, and hit the road to reach kids (edition.cnn.com). She says of her initiative, “This is not just a bus. It’s a movement” (Berdick, 2015).
Even just offering wifi hotspots in underserved communities is making progress for those who don’t have the means to set up a connection. Library buses in Kokomo, Indiana, Providence, Rhode Island, and Connect.DC in Washington D.C. beam out or loan out wifi hotspots in various neighborhoods and outside their branches (Pyatetsky, 2015). Although these projects can be costly and not necessarily green long-term, cities and libraries nationwide agree that “it’s a hole for public libraries to fill before hopefully access to the Internet becomes more of a utility like water or gas for all Americans” (Pyatetsky, 2015).
Some buses are partnering with local government and big companies like Destination: Chicago (CCOL) which works with the mayor’s office and BestBuy to bring wifi hotspots, computer equipment, and trained mentors to summer camps, libraries, and churches to teach kids block-based coding, video game design, and basic computer skills (Berdick, 2015). CCOL’s mission is to offer opportunities for “young people in a way that allows them to think about, pursue, and develop their interests…and lead them on a pathway to career success” through collaboration, creating and sharing (Mayor’s Press Office, 2015). There is even an option to request the bus and it’s been known to set up hotspots and workstations at festivals and parks.
These techmobiles are promoting what Professor Stephens coins “life literacies”. Referencing the Institute of Museum and Library Services’ report “Building Digital Communications”, he points out that without access to digital and life literacies, the economic and educational success of American communities are compromised (Stephens, 2016). Filling gaps in services like basic internet access and the opportunity to have meaningful and creative experiences with technology for any age or economic status is necessary in making sure technology deserts have the tools to become flourishing and successful.
Berdick, C. (2015, October 22). The magic school bus. Future Tense. https://slate.com/technology/2015/10/using-buses-to-bring-technology-to-underserved-communities.html
Britton, L. (2012, October 1). The makings of maker spaces, part 1: Space for creation, not just consumption. The Digital Shift. http://www.thedigitalshift.com/2012/10/public-services/the-makings-of-maker-spaces-part-1-space-for-creation-not-just-consumption/
Berger, D. (2013, November 1) “Brilliant Bus” is shrinking digital divide. CNN. https://edition.cnn.com/2013/04/04/us/cnnheroes-pyfrom-brilliant-bus/index.html (picture)
Estella’s Brilliant Bus (n.d.) http://estellasbrilliantbus.org/our-ceo/ (picture)
Mayor’s Press Office. (2015, July 13). Mayor Emanuel launches destination: Chicago mobile van to bring computers and computer learning to underserved neighborhoods this summer. Office of the Mayor. https://www.chicago.gov/city/en/depts/mayor/press_room/press_releases/2015/july/mayor-emanuel-launches-destination–chicago-mobile-van-to-bring-.html
Meyer, A. (2015, July, 23). Technology classes for senior citizens: Creating an environment where senior citizens can develop technology skills to actively participate in a strong society. Capetown IFLA WLIC 2015. http://library.ifla.org/1176/1/118-meyer-en.pdf
Pyatetsky, J. (2015, December 29). From Bookmobile to Techmobile. Public Libraries Online. http://publiclibrariesonline.org/2015/12/from-bookmobile-to-techmobile/
San Francisco Public Library, (n.d.) Library on wheels program. https://sfpl.org/locations/bookmobiles-mobile-outreach/library-wheels/library-wheels-program
Sherman, S. (2017) The techmobile is open. E L Kurdyla Publishing. LLC. https://www.thefreelibrary.com/The+TechMobile+is+open-a0484156260
Stephens, M.T. (2016). Heart of librarianship. ALA Editions, pp. 120-123. https://web-b-ebscohost-com.libaccess.sjlibrary.org/ehost/detail/detail?vid=0&sid=a9924d5a-146c-4bb7-bcf3-adec7ef796d3%40pdc-v-sessmgr03&bdata=JnNpdGU9ZWhvc3QtbGl2ZSZzY29wZT1zaXRl
Stephens, M. (n.d.) Infinite learning: Learning everywhere. https://287.hyperlib.sjsu.edu/infinite-learning-learning-everywhere/
Witteveen, A. (2017, April 6). Bookmobiles and beyond: New library services on wheels serve newborns through teens. School Library Journal. https://www.slj.com/?detailStory=bookmobiles-and-beyond-new-library-services-on-wheels-serve-newborns-through-teens