Bookwagon (vs. the TD Bank)

It was cool but sunny when we started out with the bookwagon. The streets were dry, and we had new books with us. I was worried about the front left wheel: it was broken, wobbling badly and worn, but not yet ready to fall off. The wagon pulled hard, but at least it pulled. And anyway, Cheryl and I are young and good looking rock & rollers, so what could go wrong?

A boy flagged us down almost immediately. Two of his friends, kids new to us, watched from a distance. When he had borrowed and returned to his friends, I heard a little girl ask, "Are those books?" And, to another child, "Do you want to look at the books?" I could hear the boy answering questions: "No, you borrow them." "As long as you want." "You give them back." "When they come here again." Meanwhile, another family came out to borrow. We lingered a bit longer. Three more kids came running up (one of whom borrowed), but the new kids never came any closer, and the morning was moving on, so we did too.

We had been late getting out the door (having braced ourselves with buckwheat pancakes). So, at our second stop, where Cheryl talked with a mom for a while (lending two adult books and giving out stay-healthy information), I finished folding, stapling and taping a chapter of the reading level 4 - 5 books I've been writing for another adult. A short time later, we paused near a yardsale and watched a couple of girls become excited about our new Nancy Drews. In particular, they were excited about duel copies: "Look! The same one! You can borrow one and I can borrow the same one!" In the end, however, they left with Goosebumps.

A boy came running up to return books. Further along, we connected with an adult who wanted to talk to us about her learning needs. We made an appointment to meet right after bookwagon, lent a Navada Barr novel to yet another adult, and walked on down the road.

At one stop, a little guy (pre-K) had been waiting for us for a hour. "My books!" he would say, and run to the window to look for us again. We collected some donated books from a family. We chatted with someone about the small library in the resource centre. And moved on.

It was cool but sunny, and kids were out playing. Some yelled, "I'm not getting books today" from their playground swings or passing by on their bikes. Some yelled, "Just a minute!" and banged into their homes to find books to return.

We stopped to talk with a family we'd been supporting for awhile. The little girl was doing better in school. The mom was volunteering daily (facilitated by information we had given her on an earlier visit). She asked us to prep another box of books at her child's reading level. Can do.

There was some more street borrowing - kids just coming running up. Another mom came out to get books for her children and talk about how they were doing. She said of one of her children, she's "living proof of how effective the [Storytent] program is" - a wonderfully warm thing to hear.

I dropped that level 4-5 homemade book through my learner's mail slot. We knocked on some doors where families weren't home. We turned into a court where a bunch of kids came crowding around. Not all borrowed, but they all wanted to look through the books. A couple of grown-ups came over to talk: one about community relations, the other about custody questions. Down the street a little further we lent a Sonic Hedgehog book and learned that Archie was marrying Veronica, to Betty's dismay. (You get all sorts of news doing bookwagon.)

We walked around our lost court - me moaning again about the business crowd displacing us with empty promises of a playground and splashpad - and lent zero books to about 50 families. *Grrrr*

Then we were on the short run home (hustling a little because we'd made that after-bookwagon appointment). We lent some more books. Got to talk with a mom about age-appropriate bookplay and why we were okay with her young child damaging our books in the process of learning and growing.

We lent three titles to one last adult borrower, and then headed to the CVCTA building where we store our stuff. Our visitor stopped by and we sat in the kitchen. She told us what she wanted, and we offered information about community learning options and resources, making plans to help her connect with a nearby service. (We would only intervene ourselves if a resident was expressly uninterested in using existing services: we would rather refer than replicate, although the bottom line is effectively helping residents reach their learning goal.) Then we put everything away, tidied up a bit, and went our respective ways.

What about the numbers?

I don't have the real statistics here, but I can offer some pretty good guesses. The whole affair cost us about four hours (about $120 worth of staff time, were we being paid). I'd say two dozen people borrowed about 80 books (children's and adult, valued at about $1000) over the two hour delivery period. There was no gender difference in the children's borrowing: boys borrowed as often as girls. Where gender did come into play was in the adult contacts: every one of them were women; all but one were mothers. About a quarter of our borrowers received something they'd requested or we'd prepped specifically for them (some of that prep happening "off the clock" during the week). I'm also guessing we spent roughly as much time giving out health, literacy and parenting information or connecting people to community resources as we did just lending books.

community literacy
All in all, another successful episode of community literacy work.

(You'd think someone would pay us to do stuff like this.)

Update: A Local Bookwagon program not good enough for TD.

This just appeared in my email: TD National Reading Summit - Reading and Democracy, Wednesday, November 11 to Friday, November 13, 2009

The bank asks, "What is Canada doing to foster a reading culture?" - which sends a shiver down my spine - and then they say:

In Canada, individual provinces and communities have made steps in this direction; however, because schools and libraries are the most obvious focus for public reading initiatives, and both are under provincial and municipal jurisdictions, we have no coordinated national strategy to promote reading.
But that's not true. We've got fifty coordinated national strategies. We have National Family Literacy Day, and Freedom to Read Week, and Canada Book Day, for example. We've got Summer Reading Clubs that run coast-to-coast, and the Canada Reads promotional program, and things like Word On The Street, or the Running & Reading program. There are promo events like the Raise-a-Reader campaign, or the !ndigo Love of Reading Fund. There's the on-going cross-Canada work of outfits like Scholastic Canada and Frontier College and the Canadian Language & Literacy Network, and ABC Canada, and Movement for Canadian Literacy - they've all got strategies. There's a Canadian Children's Book Week and the TeenRC online network. We've even got a Scrabble-Night In Canada for crying out loud! These are all Canada-wide in focus and intent.

But maybe, you think, TD means we need some coordination between these strategies? Nope. TD has plans of its own.

"On November 11 to 13, 2009 the TD National Reading Summit will bring together writers, educators, publishers, librarians, and public officials who care about crafting a blueprint for a reading Canada [and] delegates will lay the groundwork for implementing new programs and policies with both provincial and federal participation" (my emphasis).

So, people will pay $250 for a seat, and feel very benevolent and engaged, and create new programs and policies to add to that alphabet soup I listed above.

But, you know, supporting reading doesn't require a "coordinated strategy" or national policies. It requires flexible, responsive, accessible, committed workers who have locally relevant information, materials and strategies.

The work I described above, the Bookwagon, is necessarily local. It can't be coordinated or policied ("policed") on a national level in any shape or form. To try to do so would kill it.

I promise you, I have no intention of dragging my wagon to Brampton or Yellowknife. And if someone from those towns decide they want to create their own bookwagon-thingy, they really don't need to hear from me. (And if they do want to hear from me, they won't need a bank coordinating it.)

Yes, I could use some help. I need more storage and office space. I could use a dedicated phone line, free of charge. I could stand to get paid and/or have a book budget. In particular, I need a front left wheel for my steel-mesh garden cart.

But national policies and coordination are not among the things I need.

TD, the things you dream are only going to slow me down.


Susan W. said...

This is GREAT!

and i like this bit: "Got to talk with a mom about age-appropriate bookplay and why we were okay with her young child damaging our books in the process of learning and growing."

Hats off to you guys!!

comment carried over from Facebook

Wendell said...

Thks Susan. It really was a happy, sunny, feel-good day.


Cheryl :) said...

By far, one of the best bookwagon days we have ever had - good mix of literacy (and other) support for all ages. Final numbers -

Adults: 5
Kids: 24
Books Borrowed: 80
Books Returned: 60