Steve Thomas: Lori, welcome to Circulating Ideas.
Lori Berezovsky: Thank you. I’m happy to be here today.
Steve Thomas: We’re mostly going to talk today, of course, about the Association of Bookmobile and Outreach Services, but I did want to ask first, how did you get to be involved in libraries? And then how did you make your way into this corner of libraries?
Lori Berezovsky: Well, I never set out to become a librarian, which is what most librarians I think have said at one point, I was an art historian. I got my bachelor’s and my master’s in art history and at Northern Illinois University in DeKalb, Illinois, which is where I’m from and quickly found out I loved it. I loved everything about art history. I quickly discovered that, you know, there are no jobs in art history if you don’t want to teach. And I tried teaching and it just wasn’t a good fit for me. I kind of worked in bookstores for awhile and thought, okay, I really need to do something more and hit upon the idea of, Hey libraries. You know, there are art libraries out there and there are all different kinds of libraries, so maybe I should look into that. So I did that and, my first job here at Salina Public Library, right out of school, and… I was working in the reference department and a couple of years after starting the person that had been doing homebound delivery retired. And so they decided to not replace her, but they were going to dole out her duties. So the two duties of hers that I got were the book discussion group, the monthly book discussion group and home delivery. So I’ve been doing that. I mean, I’ve worked at the library now next week it’ll be 27 years.
So it’s been quite a long time and I’ve been doing home delivery for most of that. We’ve changed the name to home delivery now just because it’s slightly less bleak. It ideally encompasses maybe more than just the home bound, you know, which I’m always kind of keeping an eye on that, but so I kind of just fell into it that way, but quickly discovered that I really enjoyed it and really like the whole idea of outreach and how to get library services out there and get people to know about them, which is always a trick. So, yeah, it’s just kind of, one thing has gone to another thing. And here I am!
Steve Thomas: Congratulations on 27 years.
Lori Berezovsky: Okay. Thank you. Yeah, it’s shocking to me, it seems like just yesterday, you know.
Steve Thomas: Well, you are also as of right now, the Vice- President and President- Elect of the Association of Bookmobile and Outreach Services. I don’t know, is the abbreviation just A-B-O-S or am I supposed to say “a boss” or…
Lori Berezovsky: Well, you can say any of those things. I personally call it “a bose”, but people, they spell it out. They say “a boss”, “a bose”, whatever works for you.
Steve Thomas: Can you tell me a little bit about the ABOS?
Lori Berezovsky: Yes. It is really the only organization out there that supports library outreach workers, whether they are on a bookmobile or using a book cart, have little free libraries, or are doing any kind of library service outside the building and a really great support system. I just discovered the organization in 2007 completely by accident. I was Googling. I thought, okay, I need some continuing education and what can I do? I got online. I was looking for anything that had to do with library outreach, you know, a workshop, I mean, anything, and I stumbled upon them completely by accident, and I was so excited. I thought, Ooh, you know, finally I found my people. So, and as it turned out, they were having a conference coming up in the fall and I had timed that perfectly. My search was perfect, because registration was open. So I quickly signed up for that. And it turned out, it was the very first conference that ABOS put on as an independent organization, it had been connected to ARSL, the Rural and Small Library Association. So 2007, it was the first conference on its own. And I was there and I didn’t even know it was their first conference, but it was just such a wonderful experience. I mean, I immediately became a member and have been a member ever since, and have really gotten a lot out of the organization.
Steve Thomas: And what made you want to run for office?
Lori Berezovsky: I think it was just that love of the organization and, and you know, what I was getting out of it, and I had, you know, combined with the passion for outreach and wanting to, you know, further that and get more ideas and, you know, inspire other people to get into that field.
So I ran for office one year and became secretary. And that’s an annual, like a yearly position. So I ran a couple more times and could only be secretary for three years in a row, but you have to run each year, you know? So I did that for three years and then I thought, okay, I don’t want to, I don’t want to not be on the board anymore.
So I thought, well, I’ll just run for the vice president position. And that’s a three-year position. And so here I am!
Steve Thomas: So let’s talk pre COVID a little bit first and then to COVID. What kind of services did ABOS offer to the library community?
Lori Berezovsky: We would always have an in-person conference for one thing, and so that had to change quickly with COVID.
We can talk more about this in a minute, but we did find that COVID helped us as an organization in an odd sort of way. So we can talk more about that, but a huge part of the conference is the connections that you make with other people doing the same thing that you’re doing.
So many of us outreach workers work alone. And yes, you’re surrounded by your other workers at your library, but they don’t do it and they don’t necessarily get it, so to find the people that do it, they understand what you’re going through, what issues you’re having, they can offer advice on maybe how to fix something is a huge deal, it’s a huge part of the conference and outside of the conference, we have a listserv that anyone can join and that’s a great spot for people to say, Hey, you know, we’re shopping for a new bookmobile, what should I make sure I look for? Or, you know, I’m trying to buy new bags to deliver books in what kind should I get? People will definitely respond. So you get at least a good base of where to start in solving your issues. So that’s a huge part of it.
Steve Thomas: And I assume that the conference also gives you access to unique vendors that serve this particular market, whereas ALA they might be there, but it with the thousands of other people.
Lori Berezovsky: Yeah, yeah. With ALA, it’s hard to know who’s there because there’s so many of them, but yeah, we have quite a number of vendors that are specific to outreach and the bookmobile vendors. Yeah. They’re all great. We just loved them to pieces. Large print, like Thorndike Press is often there. Things that would help with senior services, like memory kits, kind of thing. We have a vendor that does that, and so we try to target vendors that have something to do with outreach specifically. So while we don’t have hundreds and hundreds, like ALA, we have very targeted ones.
Steve Thomas: And then last year, and this year you’re doing virtual conferences.
Lori Berezovsky: Correct.
Steve Thomas: And fingers crossed maybe the following year it can be in-person again.
Lori Berezovsky: Yeah, that’s my dream.
Steve Thomas: What have you found the difference between an in-person and a virtual conference? Like what are the pros and cons?
Lori Berezovsky: Well, you miss out a little bit on that and that feeling of connecting, like sitting down with people at breakfast and sharing ideas, and then moving, you know, oh, it’s lunchtime.
And then you move over here and talk to these people, or different people at sessions you attend. But what we found was that as an organization, so many more people were able to attend the virtual conference than the in-person. In the past, we would be lucky to have about 250 people come to the in-person conference, but we had just over, I think it was like 1,015 attend the virtual conference and that’s a huge increase. So we found that people were hearing about it. People were like word of mouth, almost getting the word out. We were pushing it on social media and we found that, our membership has almost doubled this year, due to a combination of things, membership drive for one, but social media, definitely the listserv, information getting out and having all these new people having found us last year for the conference.
We found that it was, we hate to say that COVID is a good thing, but in this particular case, it worked to our advantage in a way, just to help us get the word out about ABOS. And even though we’re an ALA affiliate, outreach seems to be kind of a small piece of the big ALA picture. So we don’t always attract a lot of people through the ALA avenue. So we’re expecting more people this year. We have put a cap on the virtual conference at 1200 this year, just because we still have to manage it. You know, we still have to make sure that the technology is working and that we have people to attend each session.
We have more sessions this year. We’ve expanded it from three days to five, just to allow a little more ease of scheduling and not have everyone doing sessions back to back and that kind of thing. It’s an interesting thing. You suddenly become very screen weary as the board, you know, because we’re the ones volunteers doing the work, as you probably know, but it’s been great. I mean, the outreach people just have this natural ability to talk to people and connect through the app that use, we use Whova, uh They’re able to connect and still, talk about what’s going on with them, what their issues might be, what’s going well. The virtual conference element has been good for us.
Steve Thomas: That’s great.
Lori Berezovsky: Our vendors have not been so happy with it. Vendors work best in person, but they give it the old college try.
Steve Thomas: Yeah. Well, especially I guess a bookmobile probably because they want you to come and look inside of it and look all around.
Lori Berezovsky: Right. And that’s one element that is missing too, from the in-person conference because we always invite people to bring their bookmobiles to the conference. And so we purposely choose sites that have parking for 40 foot vehicles, which is hard to do, I can tell you in, in this world these days, and oftentimes the vendors will bring a bookmobile that’s right off the line, you know? And so that’s always fun to see something brand spanking new. People who live nearby that are attending. We invite them to bring their own and then have it available for people to tour. And it’s always very interesting to see the sizes and shapes and how they’ve laid things out inside. So it’s always good.
Steve Thomas: Depending on when people are listening to this, this is out in August, but by the end of September, you can still register for the conference. So if you listen to it before the end of September, and you’re interested in this, you can still register. And what is the theme for this year’s conference?
Lori Berezovsky: This year’s theme is “Jazz Up Your Outreach.”
Steve Thomas: And like most conferences if you’re a library school student it’s cheaper and all that kind of stuff.
Lori Berezovsky: Yes. We have different different rates. If a library wants to send more than one person, there’s a group rate for that institutional kind of rate. Students definitely get a break, presenters, that kind of thing.
Steve Thomas: Well, this episode we’ll just miss it, but, can you tell me about Book Bike Week? It will be actually be like right before this episode comes out.
Lori Berezovsky: We’ve taken submissions from people. They can turn in a photo of their book bike. Tell us a little bit about how they use it, and then we post those on social media throughout the week. So I’m the one who schedules Twitter. We have divvied up the different platforms, but I can tell you that there will be at least one photo every hour during the daytime hours through the whole week and in some cases every half hour. So we’ve got a good amount. I mean, I think we had 108 altogether submitted, which I thought was great. Most of them are owned by libraries. Some are not, they’re like an independent thing. And that’s great.
We want to know what they’re doing too. There’s definitely some commonalities and how the book bikes are used, but every now and then somebody would throw a zinger in there. I’d be like, Ooh, great idea. You know, I’m so we’re hoping that we can share a little bit through the week about how people are using them and hoping to inspire people if they’ve got one and maybe they haven’t thought of some of these services that they could do, or maybe they needed a reason, a good reason to get one or to put one together themselves or something. People have been very creative in how they get materials out there.
Steve Thomas: Yeah. I’ll always love hearing about those, and then even like the rural places where they have the book donkey and stuff to bring stuff out, there’s all these creative ways people think of to get things places.
Lori Berezovsky: Yeah. Or the book camel. That’s always a good one.
Steve Thomas: Camels doing good work. You mentioned a little bit about Little Free Libraries. Do you guys work with them and encourage them a lot as well?
Lori Berezovsky: My library actually has 10 of them, so I work with them all the time, personally, but yeah, we had earlier in the year, we had Little Free Library Week and we did the same thing. We asked people to send pictures of their little libraries and there is some creativity out there on those. The sky’s the limit. If you can think it, it can be a little library, you know? One of our little libraries here in Salina is shaped like a rocket. It’s in a park that is named after a local astronaut. So then some of the playground equipment has kind of a rocket theme to it too. So it fit in perfectly there. But, yeah, you can even do anything with little free libraries. They’re fun. People love them, you know, it’s like kind of like the book bikes too. They’re interesting. They draw attention, draw people in, so they’re good tools, I think.
Steve Thomas: A lot of them, you know, are just independent people, putting them up in their neighborhoods and stuff, but they can also be associated with libraries. Another thing you have coming up is Story Walk Week. I’ve talked to Noah Lestra before about Story Walks, but can you talk about what Story Walks are and how that is a good outreach opportunity?
Lori Berezovsky: Story Walks really made to come back during COVID. They were not unheard of before then, but people got interested in them again, because outdoor programming was okay, so anything you can do outdoors is going to be a boon to your library, but Story Walks, there’s usually like some kind of little post with a sign on it that is say a couple of pages of a book. Like a children’s book, for example, and then a little further down the path, there’ll be the next pages of the book and then et cetera, et cetera, until the book is done. And so it’s designed to get families out not only moving, but also reading with your child.
And they are quite popular at this point. And so we’re going to do the same thing, as we are doing with Book Bike Week, you know, asking people to send us a picture a couple of pages of their story or how they’re situated. Are they in a park and the path, are they on library grounds?
They can really be in any context that’s allowable, that you have permission to do. But Story Walk Week is going to be in November, it’ll be November 15th through the 19th, and that will also be featured on our social media platforms.
Steve Thomas: So, this is all the kind of stuff that we’ve done before and we’re going to keep doing, but COVID obviously threw a big curve ball at outreach services. What are some of the ways that you’ve heard of libraries working around not being able to actually be around people?
Lori Berezovsky: It’s tricky and each library was different than what they were allowed and not allowed to do. So you had to just figure it out. I mean, everybody was just figuring it out pretty much on their own. There was a lot of writing notes to say the seniors that you serve, you know, your regular patrons, like the home home delivery folks, or people that you served at residential, you know, senior housing kind of things, and I know I did that. I sent a little note saying, Hey, just thinking of ya, hope all’s going well, I’ll get back to you as soon as I can, but none of us knew it would be a year and a half before some of us could do that. So there was a lot of notes going out all around the country, just to stay in touch, just that little personal touch. Other people really got good at doing programming, like say for seniors via Zoom at residential places that had Zoom capabilities and that kind of thing. They would read aloud to the seniors or they would become game show hosts. And there was some definite creativity, a lot of people still could take their bookmobile out. You know, I mean quickly, it didn’t seem to take too long after the shutdown, before some bookmobiles were able to go out and people were not able to come on the bookmobile, but they could put materials out on a table and social distance and you know, all that kind of stuff, and that seemed to work well. We had to change home delivery, where we would go to people’s homes, or apartments or something. We were not allowed to go in. We had to just make sure they had their books ready, give them a call beforehand, make sure they had the books ready and either pick them up outside on the porch or inside the door and just do a switch.
So we kind of lost a lot of that personal connection with our patrons. It was, it was tough. It was tough on us. It was tough on them. I think the people who lived through World War II are tougher than we are and I’m telling you they soldiered on and came through it okay. One lady was just like, well, you know, we’ve been through worse, you know, like good attitude. I need to adapt that attitude!
Steve Thomas: Got through the Depression, so…
Lori Berezovsky: That’s right. I mean, we can do anything, you know, so I thought that was kind of interesting, but yeah, a lot of shifting gears, and trying to see what could work and then what, you know, your director was going to allow you to do, so it was different at every library and it was interesting that it was so different, you know? I mean, there was no standardized thing of, oh, this is okay to do, but this is not, you know?
Steve Thomas: What makes up a good bookmobile in the 21st century?
Lori Berezovsky: Well, not only books, books and all kinds of library materials, obviously, programming would be a part of that. I think most people that take a bookmobile out and do some sort of story time when they go out or they have some kind of craft or something for the kids to do, anything like that, but also having wifi on board for people to just come and, you know, link into hotspot and, and be able to use their own device while you’re there, while you’re parked there, is definitely a huge thing. A big part of outreach these days is, you know, just that equity, you know, that equalizing the field and getting people online when they need to be, and getting the materials, where they need them, you know, at the point of need. It’s definitely on all of our minds these days. I’ll definitely say that.
Steve Thomas: Yeah, and I think people may be in more urban areas, forget that there’s not like mass transit in smaller places. So, it’s not like you can just hop the bus and get over to the library, and I mean, if you cut off from wifi, the library might be half an hour, hour away from you.
Lori Berezovsky: Right, right. And, it is hard for people. My town is just under 50,000, which is certainly not a small, rural sort of town, but it’s, you know, it doesn’t always make it easy to get around it. We do have a bus service, but it’s not 24 hour bus service. You don’t have stops every five minutes or something like that. So it makes it tricky. And it’s also, you know, like what is important to people. If you are a poverty level person, who has been dealing with poverty for a while, going to the library isn’t necessarily necessarily your top priority, if you’re trying to figure out how to keep your home or how to, feed the children, there are definitely more important issues than going to the library, so that’s where outreach comes in. If we can get out there somehow and get into those neighborhoods where we can be the most use to people and make their lives easier, which is always something I tell people, you know, they always say, oh, thank you for doing this. Thank you for coming here.
It’s like, I’m just trying to make your life easier. And that’s truly what it comes down to. I think, trying to make their lives a little better. People who want to read, they’re thrilled, they’re happy with whatever books you bring sometimes, but if the need goes a little deeper, It’s sometimes trickier to find those people and to get them on board.
Steve Thomas: Well, and that’s where I think the programming part of that can come in because you can kind of tell them what kind of services the library offers. And they realized like, oh, I just thought it was like a book warehouse. I didn’t realize you had a way to help me with my resume or anything like that.
Lori Berezovsky: Right, right, right. Exactly. And things changed so much now in libraries so quickly. It used to always be. Well, come in and come in and get a book and be quiet while you do it, you know? But now it’s, Hey, we’ve got DVDs, we’ve got games, we’ve got graphic novels. We’ve got computers to use. It’s really changing and it’s changing quickly, the offerings.
Steve Thomas: Yeah. And, and I do think that getting away from door counts and getting out into the community is more important. Yes, it’s great for people to come into our buildings and do things, but our mission is to serve the community the best way, not necessarily just to have a lot of people inside of our building.
Lori Berezovsky: Right. And oftentimes we don’t get high counts and, in these statistic driven library world, that might mean that your higher ups say, well, you only get a few people here at this stop. Well, those people need us. I feel like it should be more quality over quantity in a way, but yeah. I think that’s the statistics thing is something we all have to struggle with at some point.
Steve Thomas: Yeah. It’s a hard pull on both sides finding that balance. So the last big thing I wanted to ask about was, what are the benefits of being a member of ABOS? Like what’s the pitch here for why should people join?
Lori Berezovsky: What’s the shtick? Well, first of all, you get to be a member of ABOS. I mean, how could you not want to do that? You know? Secondly it’s possibly the most affordable membership rate out there for a library organization. And it is for an individual it’s $49 per year. With that you get some exclusive members only continuing ed opportunities throughout the year. We just started that this this year actually. And we’ll hopefully be coming up with more next year. We have a listserv that is very helpful and entertaining, even if you don’t have an issue you need to solve, it’s just fun to read through them sometimes and you can get trends, you can see what’s happening out there and get some ideas.
Members get a lesser cost to the conference. Although, I think this year, because it’s virtual, it’s such a low rate anyway, that, we’re like, okay. We just don’t really need to put a break on that this year, but in-person, it would definitely be. We have this network of people that you can reach out to at any time, you know, and just talk about something. I mean, I can’t tell you the number of times, I’ve just like called up a library I’ve read something about what they’ve been doing and I’m like, I’m calling them, I just get on the phone and try to get to the right person.
And then, and just say, Hey, you know, I’m at this library, I read about this. What are you doing? I did that recently with reference by mail from inmates, which my library does, but we never really had a name for it. Really have any guidelines set down or anything like that. So after talking to them, I’m like, oh, okay. Now I know I need to get some guidelines set down and some parameters set up here. So we’re working on that right now.
Steve Thomas: Well, you mentioned earlier like that sense of community, because sometimes it can be a very solitary job. I get that a lot of times when I’m talking to school librarians for the show too, is that they’re the one person in their school doing this and so it’s really important for these professional organizations to just have somebody to commiserate with sometimes.
Lori Berezovsky: Yeah, exactly. And to know you’re not alone, you know what I mean? You’re not the only one going through something or dealing with this, that, or the other thing. And we support those school librarians as well, and this year have some offerings at our conference that will be applicable to the youth librarians. Definitely. And that’s something that we really put ourselves out there and try to keep up with.
Outreach seems to be changing quickly. And I mean, I think COVID had something to do with that, but suddenly we’re hearing from academic librarians and school librarians and like all these people are finding us and we want to be able to support them no matter what type of outreach they do. And that it doesn’t matter if you’re a public library or you are the only employee at your library, and you still have to do outreach. We want to help you and support that in whatever way we can. So we always want to hear about how people are doing outreach because it’s changing so fast and we need to know and we need to know how to support that position.
Steve Thomas: Well, Laurie, thank you so much for coming on the show today and telling everybody about ABOS. And now I know how to pronounce it.
Lori Berezovsky: There you go. Yes.
Steve Thomas: I like your pronunciation.
Lori Berezovsky: Thank you. It’s been nice to be here. Our website which is ABOS-outreach.com.
Steve Thomas: And if anybody wanted to get in touch with you particularly how can they get in touch with you to follow up on anything you talked about here today?
Lori Berezovsky: Sure. They can contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Steve Thomas: Have a great day.