The public library, a steadfast pillar of a community, remains an invaluable resource to residents of all ages and abilities. But when members of the community it serves are unable to pay a visit in person, the library doesn’t hesitate to bring their services to them.
Libraries across Northeast Ohio, including more than 50 combined branches of the Cuyahoga County and Cleveland Public Library systems, provide personalized selections and deliveries of books, audiobooks, movies and music to homebound individuals in their respective communities. Some patrons are short-term users and receive items when recovering from surgery or avoiding winter weather conditions, while other long-term patrons with permanent limitations have been benefiting from the library’s homebound services for more than a decade.
The service is free and available to residents of any age or income level who are homebound, shares Jennifer Lottes, supervisor of outreach services at Euclid Public Library. “I have served customers from 2 years old to 103 years old,” says Lottes.
Some days, library outreach staff are fielding eager requests from 100-year-old patrons for suspense thrillers and Clive Cussler adventure novels. Other days, they’re helping residents stick to their daily workout regimen.
“One of our patrons had to use an exercise bike as part of her physical therapy and told us that she didn’t enjoy just pedaling and getting nowhere,” Lottes says. “But when she put her book on the handlebars and read while she rode, she could exercise twice as long.”
Area libraries either employ volunteer drivers to make weekly or monthly deliveries, or they ship items to patrons’ homes directly at no charge.
In Rocky River, the outreach team makes it personal.
“Even before the first in-person meeting, we are trying to learn the patron’s preferences in reading, watching and listening across all the formats available,” says Stacey Hayman, programming and digital services coordinator at Rocky River Public Library. “The outreach librarian delivers materials to individuals and continuously refines her selections based on patron feedback.”
This thoughtfulness and careful attention does not go unnoticed. Laurel, a Rocky River resident, began receiving books monthly in 2011. When she could no longer read, she switched to audiobooks with the help of the library staff.
“The service means everything to me,” Laurel says. “It’s my life. I can’t stand very long, so I can sit and listen and enjoy.”
Along with home deliveries, Northeast Ohio libraries make regular visits to senior living apartments and care facilities providing a variety of reading material to peruse. These frequent interactions provide opportunities for positive mental and emotional stimulation for residents as well as library staff.
“Being a part of the connection between homebound patrons and the library encompasses so much of what I believe to be the reason why libraries are here in the first place,” Hayman says. “This service ensures all citizens have equal access to resources they could not secure on their own but have every right to expect and enjoy.”
Beyond the timely delivery of new titles and discussions about juicy plotlines, these connections strengthen our communities and affect our neighbors’ lives in immeasurable ways.
“I love when patrons and I can talk about books or movies that we’ve enjoyed,” says Carol O’Keefe, outreach librarian at Rocky River Public Library. “Recently, a patron told me ‘Love you’ at the end of a phone conversation. My heart just melted.”