Arkansas Librarians Launch Summer Book Bus, Inspire Community

After years of dreaming, school librarians and friends Kim Moss and Carol Halbmaier have a bus-turned-bookmobile to get books to students over the summer.

 

Arkansas school librarians Kim Moss and Carol Halbmaier have spent years trying to solve the issue of summer book access among some of their students. Over the years, the women have discussed allowing kids to check out books over break or opening up the school library one day a week. Their dream: turning an old ice cream truck into a summer bookmobile.

“We joked about an ice cream truck just because we thought that was something we could drive,” says Halbmaier, the K-4 librarian at Osage Creek Elementary.

The summer bookmobile idea, however, was no joke. Throughout their shared history—teaching kindergarten together 20 years ago, as librarians in the district at separate schools for years, and now for the last two years, sharing a library in the same building that houses an elementary and middle school in Bentonville, AR—Moss and Halbmaier held onto this same goal.

Then during an unrelated meeting in spring 2018, middle school social studies instructional specialist Sarah DeWitt mentioned that old school buses are put out of service each year and perhaps one could be turned into a bookmobile. Moss and Halbmaier couldn’t believe it—bigger and better than an ice cream truck.

There was not enough time to make it happen for that summer, but they were determined to be on the road in 2019.

In the fall, they met with the district’s director of transportation, who happens to be Sarah’s husband Chris DeWitt, and the Moss and Halbmaier’s longtime wish became a community’s mission.

They would have a bus with a new engine, and the district paying for gas and insurance, but DeWitt had more in mind.

“He’s really the one who dreamed bigger than us,” says Moss, librarian at Creekside Middle School.

Excited simply to have the bus, and having not received grant money to renovate the inside, the librarians were ready to load the emptied vehicle with plastic crates of books held in place with bungee cords. Then DeWitt showed them pictures he found online of busses with bookshelves inside, and other members of the transportation department offered to build the shelving and had already contacted vendors to have flooring and upholstery donated.

“By the time we left, we were in tears,” says Moss. “We were just so overwhelmed at their vision and willingness to collaborate with us.”

There was more to come. More than 20 staff members and friends showed up to clean and sand the bus before it could be painted white. Art teacher Napoleon Dezaldivar volunteered to turn the white bus into a colorful mobile version of Moss and Halbmaier’s shared library, which is called the Bridge.

Their principals prioritize literacy and have been supportive every step of the way. They will be on the bus during the week Moss and Halbmaier can’t because of vacation. So many teachers volunteered to take a shift, there will be six to 10 teachers each week, many having to drive their own cars behind the bus. District staff, relatives, and friends with licenses to drive a school bus have volunteered to take a day.

“There’s such a feeling of community with this bus,” says Halbmaier. “It’s been our dream, but really it has been unbelievably easy how we’ve had people come in and buy into that dream and make it bigger and better than anything we ever thought of.”

Most of the books are donated and used, but the librarians hope to get some new titles to hand out, too.

“A lot of these babies we’re going to see are used to getting donated things, are used to getting second-hand things,” says Moss. “You know what it’s like to get a new book—just the smell of a new book and the feel of a new book. We want them to have the opportunity to have a new book as well.”

Moss brought her therapy dog Sam along one day. They rode behind in an air conditioned car and got out to greet kids at each book stop. 

New or gently used, they are the kids to keep. With a large transitory population of students, they knew it was unlikely they would get books back if they handed out titles from their library collections.

In a district that spans economic demographics, Moss and Halbmaier believe the bus also provides an important opportunity for teachers to see where some of their students live.

“Just to see the neighborhood, I think, gives you a different perspective and a different empathy for those kids,” says Moss. “I know it’s been great for me. It’s been really impactful. We even said our own kids are going to ride this bus. We live in a city that the perception is there’s not that need because, for a lot of our district, there’s not. But there are pockets of really high need that I think people in our town, in our community, need to see.”

Moss plans to knock on a few doors and get her students out of bed if she must. The bus will also be stocked with food and school supplies. And therapy dogs that visit the school might even come for a ride, because the students asked if they would be there, too.

“It’s not just about access to books, it’s caring for our kids and families,” says Moss. “For me, it’s not just bringing the books but getting a chance to see those babies’ faces and building relationships. There are some kids I fret about in the summer. I worry do they have food? Are they being well cared for? This gives me a chance to see those faces.”

The bus will go out each Wednesday, and other schools in the district are welcome to use it on the days it is sitting. On its first day out, 87 students showed up to greet Moss and Halbmaier. The librarians are dreaming even bigger now.

"Hopefully our journey will inspire a fleet of busses around the globe and books for everyone," says Moss.

Photos: Top, Kids visit book bus on its first day out. Bottom, The transformation of the bus. Middle: Kim Moss (left), Chris Dixon, and Carol Halbmaier (right). Right: Staff with book bus flyer.
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Kara Yorio

Kara Yorio (kyorio@mediasourceinc.com, @karayorio) is news editor at School Library Journal.

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