A Mobile library refers to a suitably equipped and reinforced vehicle or bus that visits schools according to a regular schedule, with a resources collection that may be borrowed by learners and teachers. It can also be used to refresh a school’s resource collection by issuing of block loans. This model of library is operated from a central library/depot of resources, such as regional or district education resource center. The mobile library service was initiated chiefly to alleviate the demands for library service at the main libraries by reaching out to the general population with the sole aim of providing accurate and current information to meet the needs in rural schools.
Butdisuwan (2000), defined Mobile library as a library that serves communities and locations that are distant from a local library. They are mostly run from Monday to Friday and sometimes on Saturdays.
Knight (2006), defined Mobile Library as a large vehicle for use as a library. It is designed to hold books on shelves so that the books can easily be accessed by readers when the vehicle is parked. The vehicle used usually has enough space for people to read the book inside of it. They are often used to provide library service to villages and city suburbs which have no library buildings. They can also serve groups of those who have difficulty accessing library services.
Niemand (2004), defined Mobile library as a library housed in a large van that provides a live service to those unable to attend their nearest local library.
Requirements for the Operation of a Mobile Library
Some of the requirements needed for the operation of a such services are highlighted thus:
• A teacher-Librarian to manage the overall service;
• Library assistant and a driver;
• Funding for fuel, maintenance and licensing;
• Optional online information and circulation services, linked to parent education library management system, by means of a laptop and scanner;
• A service level agreement with schools involved that clearly articulates the role and responsibilities between the schools and the providers of the service;
• A schedule of regular visits, based on school terms;
• A dedicated budget for collection development and running costs;
• Ongoing training for teachers who have access to the collection; and a
• Monitoring and reporting mechanism (Knight, 2006).
The Role of Mobile Libraries in supporting education
Libraries and information centres do not exist in vacuum. There is always a sound rationale for their operations. Hence the following reasons below express the importance of mobile libraries:
• Move on to service other schools as schools progress towards developing their own school library and information service;
• The school’s library resource is refreshed regularly by mobile library service since the selection is based on the needs of the schools that are visited;
• This service is useful especially in the rural schools, when there is a lack of large organizational capacity and a lack of space to establish a proper library;
• Engage in the sharing of resources which enables learners and teachers to access a wide range of resources;
• Assist the teachers in growing learners to become information literate and develop the reading habit;
• Have other learning interventions such as music, arts, science and technology learning Programmes as part of the School Library and Information Service Programme, which will benefit all learners.
• Target user groups and their information needs in remote communities or other regions where library services are currently unable to stimulate or meet the demand for information;
• Stretch out their services to reach the physically disabled;
• Mobile libraries make reading materials available to various schools based on their different learning needs. Picture books with less complex illustrations, words and information books with many photographs are selected for a class at the preparatory level;
• They play a vital role in times of crises by directing many stakeholders such as citizens, experts and policy makers by providing trustworthy sources of information;
• Building lasting ties with the school community through establishing sustainable partnership by helping to inculcate the habit and culture of reading in the communities;
• Provide read-aloud session and user-education programmes especially when new users are introduced to their services; and
• Provide reference materials such as encyclopedias, dictionaries, maps, atlases, and globes for extensive source of information and references for their patrons (Beenham and Harrison, 1990).
Challenges Faced in the Operating Mobile Library Services
Mobile Libraries operations are not without challenges. These range from a lot of issues as stated below:
• Resources are limited and there is a chance that the appropriate resources could be selected by another school first. Mobile Library is medium is size and referral in nature and most times can accommodate less than fifty (50) users at a time. It also lacks certain facilities such as the bibliographic instructions and the library catalogue which are the keys to the holding of the library;
• The lack of space to read and the time to explore the mobile library is not sufficient. Typically depending on the size of the school population and duration of visit, each class is given thirty (30) minutes to utilise the library. As the number of children and classes increases in schools, the amount of time and space decreases in order to cater for all;
• More so, lack of sufficient trained and qualified personnel is another challenge of mobile library operation. Many a time, mobile library staff lacks the required qualification in the field of librarianship;
• Financial constraints also pose a challenge to running a mobile library. A mobile library needs a recurrent income and expenditure budget in order to augment for its depleted resources over a set of time owing to its consistent usage by users;
• Management of the Service could be problematic, as schools have to be held accountable for items borrowed;
• Distance and terrain present their own challenges especially as the service is limited by the number of buses servicing rural areas;
• Buses can also be a target for thieves especially if they carry computers; and
• Donated buses already customized from other countries need to be serviced locally, while there is also the added attendant of cost of importation clearance.
Indeed, a mobile library service is one of the most important services that library and Information Services use to meet their aims and objectives. There is considerable potential in the use the mobile library services as a support to local or stationary library services but there are also many challenges. There should be therefore commitment on the part of the government of nations, Educational Administrators, Librarians, and National library administrations, in order to achieve quality and sustainability in the development and improvement of mobile library services. Only through their active participation will mobile library services transform the teaching and learning process in education.