A new bright orange truck driving around the New Haven Green last week was not, in fact, the newest addition to the city’s food truck scene, but a new mobile library serving books to New Haven children.
The recently debuted ReadMobile is just one of the many important programs initiated by the New Haven Free Public Library to give students of all socioeconomic classes easier access to books. The primary goal for the ReadMobile is to promote early age literacy among children, particularly those who do not have access to many books in their home environments, said Cathy DeNigris, deputy director of NHFPL. Mayor Toni Harp made an appearance at the truck’s debut on the New Haven Green last Wednesday.
The new truck replaces an older version that served the area starting in 2001. This newer, more energy efficient and larger ReadMobile can house up to 2,000 books, said Xia Feng, the Public Service Administrator for Young Minds at the NHFPL. NHFP librarians take shifts running the ReadMobile on a weekly basis.
“The most important function of this new city asset is its portability — bringing books and other library materials to those who would otherwise have trouble accessing the city’s library branches,” said Laurence Grotheer, the City Hall director of communications.
The ReadMobile will travel to over 10 different locations three days each week, Feng said, including various housing developments and specifically designated New Haven School Readiness sites — areas in the city that lack a library or schools with large book collections for children.
The new ReadMobile was funded by both city and private funds, though in the past the original ReadMobile was sustained by various grants that the library individually applied for and received every two or three years.
While many schools in the area have media centers, many preschools do not, explained DeNigris. Those early years are critical to a child’s reading and learning capabilities later in life, Feng added.
“We are serving kids who primarily come from low income backgrounds and don’t necessarily have book rich homes, so it’s one of the most important things we do to get these kids interested in reading from a young age,” DeNigris said.
Yale officials echoed similar sentiments in describing the importance of the program.
The most important thing that the ReadMobile gives to the community is access, said Claudia Merson, Yale’s Director of Public School Partnerships. Field trips are expensive and inconvenient, but the ReadMobile negates those obstacles, she added.
“It gives access to kids who might not have the money to access libraries,” Merson said. “Libraries play a huge and critical role in our city today and cities in general. The fact that we have the internet and Google today does not diminish the value of the free public library.”
The NHFPL is also now considering how they can repurpose the old ReadMobile to continue serving the New Haven community, Feng said. The ReadMobile administrators are discussing using it as an additional ReadMobile to expand their reach to additional neighborhoods and senior centers, DeNigris added. Alternatively, they are discussing turning it into a technology learning center with the goal to expose the community to possibilities that new technology brings.
Along with the ReadMobile, the NHFPL has developed a number of programs targeting young minds, including “Stay & Play,” a program for one- and two-year-olds that exposes children to reading at the earliest age possible, according to Feng. Additionally, the NHFPL houses one of the few 3-D printers in the state of Connecticut and holds classes to teach 10- and 11-year-olds how to design and print objects using the printer.
Merson explained that such programs are just one of the ways that the NHFPL “brings cutting edge technology to kids.”
From 2013–2014, the ReadMobile served 2,562 visitors, circulating almost 5,000 books.