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Ilsley Library takes its services on the road

MIDDLEBURY — Realizing some folks can’t pay regular visits to Middlebury’s  Ilsley Public Library, officials there are working on ways to bring the institution’s books, videos and other services to the masses.
Efforts to create a more mobile Ilsley Library began this past Wednesday, June 19, at the Middlebury Farmers Market at the VFW Post 7823 at 530 Exchange Street. There, Ilsley Library Director Dana Hart staffed a booth offering dozens of books and library cards to market shoppers.
It’s the first of potentially many public events at which Ilsley officials will seek to export, and enhance knowledge of, the library’s considerable written and audiovisual resources.
While the June 19 event didn’t yield a lot of book loans or new library memberships, Hart believes business will pick up as the mobile offering becomes better known. It’s an extra convenience for local consumers, she said.
“The library exists outside of our physical building,” Hart noted. “We already make lots of efforts to bring the library to meet people where they are.”
For example, this will be the fifth consecutive year that Ilsley Youth Services Librarian Tricia Allen will be riding her “book bike” to Middlebury’s free summer lunch program site at the Memorial Sports Center. Each Thursday, Allen makes the bike trek from the Ilsley to the meal site, a trailer of books in tow.
As a special surprise to young readers, Allen often dons outfits sported by a character in one of the books she plans to highlight that day.
“Motorists on the Cross Street Bridge around 11:50 a.m. are treated to the sight of me pedaling across dressed as an octopus, a dragon, a strawberry, a carrot… ” she wrote in an email to the Independent. “I arrive as lunch service starts (noon) and pull boxes of books out of the trailer.”
The trailer books include tomes that have been donated by the community, weeded from Ilsley’s collection, and new titles bought with funds from the “Friends of the Library” group. Every child at the meal site is welcome to pick out one book, no library card needed. The child can take the book to read it and return it to the library or the book bike, or — if they love it — they can add it to their home collection.
Allen begins reading to the assembled children at 12:30 p.m., presenting up to five books based on a theme, for which she wears a coordinating homemade costume. 
Last year, Allen read to 170 kids during six story times, and handed out almost 200 books.
She thanks sponsors of the program, which this year include Middlebury Parks & Rec/recreation, MIDD Nourishes, the Ilsley, Friends of Ilsley and Frog Hollow Bike, which helps maintain Allen’s bike.
Allen is a year-around reading mentor to Middlebury-area children. She makes weekly reading trips to Mary Hogan Elementary School between October and early May. Teachers select students from a pool of interested kids to eat their lunch in the library and listen to Allen read stories. She reads short chapter books to the kids in grades 1 through 4 and makes her way through a longer book with the 5th- and 6th graders.  
“The goal of this school outreach is to make sure that all Middlebury students know who I am, what I do, and are comfortable approaching me,” Allen said. “The idea that ‘inspirational spaces can also be intimidating spaces’ and a fear of the unknown… keeps people from entering our doors. All children should feel comfortable walking into our library, and so I introduce myself to kids in their comfort zone, let them know that I am the furthest thing from scary, and invite them to visit me at the public library. My hope is that once kids are able to self-select where they spend their time, the library will be one of their go-to options.”
Folks who can’t easily travel can use an app called “Libby” to electronically access Ilsley’s 9,764 e-books and 5,570 audio books. With Libby, Patrons sign into Libby using their library card. There are no fines and fees with downloadable resources, because they are returned automatically on their due date.
Last year, Ilsley patrons downloaded 4,459 e-books and 6,453 audiobooks, according to Hart.
“The mobile library is a new way to bring the physical collection out into the community,” Hart said. “It allows us to check out books anywhere there’s Internet and register people for library cards anywhere. It’s a way of expanding the library’s reach by bringing books and other resources to people outside of the building.”
Look for the Ilsley mobile library at the Middlebury Farmers Market on July 17, Aug. 21, and additional dates in September and October.
Reporter John Flowers is at johnf@addisonindependent.com.

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