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Breaking down barriers: KPL’s community influence extends beyond its physical buildings
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Breaking down barriers: KPL’s community influence extends beyond its physical buildings

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With bright, vibrant, imagination-inspired images covering its body, the Kenosha Public Library’s Bookmobile is hard to miss.

The bus-turned-traveling book repository is a roving example of how the city’s public library system is striving to have an impact on the community beyond the walls of the four traditional branches across the city.

While the Bookmobile most commonly is associated with serving children, it also serves other segments of the population, including older adults.

“Kenosha has a long, storied tradition of offering the Bookmobile,” said Jill Miatech, who oversees the library’s outreach department. “It’s kind of like a multi-branch library system.”

Throughout 2017, the library hosted 570 outreach events, and 14,687 attendees took advantage of services outside the traditional branch libraries, according to figures in the system’s annual report.

While the Bookmobile and other outreach services were woven into the fabric of the library’s mission statement decades ago, Miatech said interest has grown across different age groups.

“Quite often, it’s a transportation issue,” Miatech said of the request she and other library staffers receive for Bookmobile visits. “But we also make regular stops at the schools because it’s become a great component.”

Invaluable for seniors

Another sphere of influence for the library — one, perhaps, that is lesser known — is tailored specifically to the senior-most members of the community.

Library Director Barbara Brattin said a service such as the Bookmobile is invaluable to the city’s older adult population.

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“It’s really impactful on their cognitive abilities,” Brattin said. “We will do deliveries. The public library can be that kind of service.”

The Bookmobile routinely will make stops at senior living facilities in the community, providing reading materials to residents in their 80s and 90s. Materials shared frequently with seniors are in large print or audio form.

“We’re all about giving people that access,” said Sue Vaal, a library outreach services clerk who routinely visits the senior living facilities and has struck up a rapport with the residents.

“For some people, this is a lifeline,” Vaal said. “They look forward to it — and their lives are better for it. We become more than the library to (the residents). We become friends.”

Setting up a lending table or making tailored deliveries to a homebound person’s home can be a labor-intensive exercise, but Vaal said it is time and energy well spent.

“We hope to add even more in the future,” Vaal said.

The Kenosha County Aging and Disability Resource Center has named the local library system as one of its dementia-friendly businesses and organizations, in part because of the Bookmobile stops and homebound delivery services.

Other outreach

While the Bookmobile is a very visible representation of the library's outreach efforts, staffers point to other examples as well, including partnerships with a number of closely aligned community organizations.

During the warm-weathered months, for example, the library hosts a series of activity nights, including Chess Night at the Park, which is run in conjunction with the Kenosha Chess Association.

“We just put it out there and see what happens,” Brandi Cummings, communications specialist, said of the recurring events. “We’re very much a hub in the community. We’re more than just a place.”

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