Gwinnett Bookmobile builds home libraries

Gwinnett Bookmobile volunteers help students select books to keep at a recent stop at Shiloh Middle School. Photo contributed.
Gwinnett Bookmobile volunteers help students select books to keep at a recent stop at Shiloh Middle School. Photo contributed.

One sign that it’s summer is the arrival of the Gwinnett County Public Schools’ bookmobiles. For the last two years, volunteers, teachers and media staffers have taken two mobile libraries to various neighborhoods where students were invited to borrow books and keep up with their reading skills over the break. Last year’s program saw 13,700 checkouts.

But as with most things, COVID-19 has changed that approach, said Mary Barbee, director of Media Services for the Gwinnett system.

“Normally, we put books on the mobile library and students check them out, but we didn’t feel we could do that with the current situation,” she said. “The bookmobiles are very small, and they get crowded, and it’s not good to have a lot of people in there. But we were still concerned that students should continue to read, especially in summer when academics tend to slip a bit. Reading keeps their minds active and their vocabulary up.”

The solution: Give books away.

Through the end of July, the “Books 2 Kids” program will have the mobile libraries visiting more than 80 school locations where children from preschool through high school can choose two new books to take home and keep.

“This idea hits a lot of notes for us,” said Barbee. “The kids still get to select books, and they’re building personal libraries, which is critical to getting kids to read on their own. We’re really excited about the whole program.”

So are the students. Since launching earlier this month, about 9,000 books have been given away, and the events are drawing an average of 400 people. And it’s not just the youngest readers who are showing up.

“We’ve been very pleasantly surprised to see more middle and high schoolers than expected,” said Barbee. “And the numbers are higher than expected. They’ve blown us away.”

About 60,000 new books were purchased for the giveaway. The project was made possible from year-round fundraising efforts and by shifting monies from media services and curriculum programs. Drivers were hired to take the two repurposed school buses to the sites where volunteers put up tables in the bus lanes, direct traffic and help kids make selections from a range of genres.

“It’s set up so you stay in the car until you get out to pick your books,” said Barbee. “Each child can pick two. And if there’s a child in a car seat, we give them two books, too.”

The schedule includes two stops each day and covers the county’s 29 middle schools where any student in that school cluster can come by. After those stops have been made, the mobiles will continue to visit specific neighborhoods.

“It’s been a 100% positive experience, even with people waiting in their cars for 30 minutes or more,” said Barbee. “I think they’re glad to have something to do with their kids. For the workers, they’ve been so excited to see the children again and connect them with a good book. It’s been only wins.”

A complete schedule of the book mobile stops is online at gcpsbookmobile.org.

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Each week we look at programs, projects and successful endeavors at area schools, from pre-K to grad school. To suggest a story, contact H.M. Cauley at hm_cauley@yahoo.com or 770-744-3042.

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