March 22, 2018

The Advocate's Toolbox

Wheels of Change: Up Close with Outreach Librarian Richard Lyda

Photo credit: Jim Larimer.

“We’re bringing services to people who either would not or could not access them otherwise….[it] truly does change lives,” says Library Journal  Mover & Shaker Richard Lyda, mobile services and outreach librarian at Arapahoe Library District in Centennial, CO.

Since joining Arapahoe in 2008—where more than 20 percent of residents speak a language other than English in their homes—Lyda has made a name for himself as an unrelenting advocate for equitable access. With his tech savvy and Spanish-language skills, Lyda seeks to reach his district’s underserved communities, employing such strategies as hosting interactive storytimes near low-income apartment complexes, targeting new hours and locations for his Library on Wheels to maximize its impact, and adding iPad minis to its collection.

In the third of a dozen planned interviews with the youth services librarians named as Mover & Shakers this year, Lyda shares with School Library Journal his inspirations and passions, his strategies for effective community outreach and narrowing the digital divide, and what’s next for him in his district.

When/how did you know library science was the right choice for you?
I was a library fan as a child.  I used to walk to one of the library branches in the district where I now work.  I was really into all the S.E. Hinton books, and, a little earlier, Shel Silverstein and “Frog and Toad” were favorites. I worked at academic libraries during my undergrad years in college and I always loved libraries.  After college, I worked as a teacher in a Head Start preschool classroom. Every Friday, an outreach librarian would visit our class for storytime. It became immediately clear that I would rather be doing that librarian’s job!  That set the ball rolling for me to pursue my MLIS.

Why were you drawn to community outreach programs like this one?
My experiences teaching for Head Start made me appreciate how important community outreach can be for so many people. Families need to know that resources exist before they can access them, and effective community outreach is a great way to spread the word about valuable community resources.

How did you determine what/where the need was?
While our new Library on Wheels was being built, we knew we would be expanding our reach and our hours of operation. We also knew we had to be systematic in identifying where we would visit. These decisions had to be justifiable to our stakeholders. We had used a scoring matrix during the RFP process of selecting a vendor for the bookmobile. My supervisor at the time, Donna Walker (Mover and Shaker 2011) had the brilliant idea of using that same scoring matrix to identify potential areas of need. It required a lot of research, but we eventually developed this scoring matrix into an effective system to identify where and how great the need for mobile library services in our community.

Do you have any advice for librarians seeking to improve community involvement?
I would suggest not to overlook outreach as a mode of service in public libraries. I’ve had a very gratifying and fulfilling experience in my almost 5 years as an outreach librarian. I get to see the service positively affecting youth, families, and seniors every day.

Richard Lyda hosts a storytime for Arapahoe’s Library on Wheels. Photo credit: Cynthia Kiyotake.

Were you experienced at read-alouds when you got started?
I did have a lot of experience with storytimes from my time at Head Start. However, the concept of storytime has evolved tremendously since those days with the development of programs like Every Child Ready to Read. We did face challenges establishing attendance when we initiated them. We initially started our storytimes at 3 p.m.…almost nobody came. We moved [them] to 4:00 p.m., which is also the busiest time on the bookmobile. It’s been a challenge for staff on the bus, but turnout for has been fantastic. We catch kids as they get off the bus and they love coming to hear a story after school!

We didn’t have extra staff to help on the bookmobile while the storytimes were taking place [and] we don’t have room on the bus to conduct storytimes. So we have to hold them either outside or in the office/community rooms where we visit. Picking books can be challenging because I never know who will show up. One day there were about eight or nine teens and a couple of 5-year-olds. So finding books that can somehow appeal to all the different age groups takes a little extra work.

What books are on your all-time top lists for storytime?
I’ve never gone wrong with Herve Tullet’s Press Here. We have such a wide range of ages that come to storytimes at the Library on Wheels. Press Here is so interactive that a 10-year-old and a two-year-old can both participate and enjoy the same storytime.  I also like It’s a Book by Lane Smith; just don’t tell anybody that they say ‘jack ass’ at the end.

What are you reading right now for yourself?
I just finished the first “Maze Runner” book  [by James Dashner]. I’ve been meaning to read it for years and finally just got around to it.

What are you most proud of at your library?
I’m really proud to work for a library district that provides so much institutional support for outreach.  I think the service is a critical component of a public library’s mission.

Do you ever hear from kids who participated in your programming in the past?
Over the last 5 years, some of the children that used to attend storytime are now teenagers. Every now and then, some of them will attend storytime for old time’s sake. A teen that stopped by the other day said, ‘I wish I was a kid again!’  Hopefully the kids are creating good memories at our storytimes.

What was your reaction to being named a Mover & Shaker?
It was a big surprise. I didn’t quite believe until it was officially announced. When I was initially contacted for an interview, I originally thought it was for a story on outreach.

What do you think is the state of children’s services right now?
Educating parents about the importance of early literacy is critical. In our community, this can be especially true for immigrant families that have moved here from all over the world.

What do you think children’s services should look like going forward?
I think it’s important to promote children’s services beyond the walls of libraries and schools. I see the love for books and stories at our storytimes out in the community. The kids that are attending might otherwise go home and watch TV. Instead, they’re hearing stories and hanging out with kids they might not otherwise get to know. My district is also going out and providing storytimes in home day cares as well.  There are countless opportunities to provide children’s and literacy services out there…it’s mainly a matter of trial and error and finding the right situation.

What is next for you at Arapahoe?
We just started making iPad minis available for patrons on the Library on Wheels. We have three of them available for checkout and they’ve been a tremendous hit with the kids and teens. This is in addition to the two patron computers we already had available on the bus. Patrons have to have a library card in good standing to use the iPads, so it’s been a really good motivator for kids to sign up for cards. Also, it’s been really interesting to see the social aspect of the iPad use. The kids like to gather around and see what their friends are doing on the tablets. It’s turned into a fun, interactive and social environment, which was actually somewhat unexpected.

What’s on your career wish list? What would you love to do that you haven’t done yet?
I would love to help develop a mobile tech lab and maker space. It would be really cool to see the community we serve have access to these innovations that we’re seeing in brick-and-mortar libraries.

What’s the best professional development experience that you’ve ever had?
Having the opportunity to be involved in the building of the Library on Wheels from the ground up was really gratifying, and to see it used so heavily and successfully has been great. I was also pretty excited to get my commercial driver’s license. I like to brag that I’m a trucker librarian.

Attending the annual Association of Bookmobile and Outreach Services (ABOS) conferences has been extremely helpful. Outreach can be a pretty specialized type of service, so attending my first conference was really eye opening. It was like finding a group of people that all speak the same language.

Karyn M. Peterson About Karyn M. Peterson

Karyn M. Peterson ( is a former News Editor ofSLJ.