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Mail-A-Book Interactive Programming

Queens Library

Innovation Leader: Debbi Olley Murphy, Assistant Director, Marketing Communications, dmurphy@queenslibrary.org

Problem Statement

Queens Library has a long-running service, Mail-A-Book (MAB), which provides books, DVDs, audio books and more to library users who cannot come into the library. With about 760 individual customers and 35 nursing homes that receive rotating collections from MAB, homebound people are well served. However, sending materials to homebound customers does not alleviate their loneliness and isolation. While Queens Library was able to serve customers’ intellectual needs, their need for companionship and socialization was unmet.

Innovation

In 2009, the staff of MAB began a unique program that has achieved terrific results. Using an 800 number, staff connected MAB’s homebound customers with library programs via conference calls. MAB has used the teleconferencing console to include homebound participants in music and discussion programs held at Queens Library, giving them a feeling of inclusion they might not have had otherwise. Staff has also led book discussions via conference call, which gives homebound customers an opportunity to share their views on the book in question, and also facilitates wide-ranging chats.

Regular chat sessions are also scheduled; they include casual conversations, and some are based on agreed-upon topics. With this outreach program, callers can talk about home, family, illness, personal memories and more. Guest moderators have included staff members from Queens Library’s Special Services Department and executive directors from The Holocaust Museum and the Louis Latimer House. The Metropolitan Museum of Art has also held a series of art history classes with MAB’s customers.

Progress

With this pilot program (funded by the Harry and Jeanette Weinberg Foundation), homebound customers are far more involved in their communities, and have formed lasting friendships. Since the program was piloted, more than 500 new customers have signed on to the service. We have exceeded our goals for attendance and number of programs each year; this year, we are offering about 100 conference call programs, with 10-15 customers on each call.

While homebound customers enjoy live programming, it seems clear that what they like the best are the book discussions and free-form chat sessions, when they are able to discuss just about anything that’s on their minds. And their responses are uniformly positive. Says one customer: “Before this program, I was a bit lonesome and bored. This has brightened my day and given me something to look forward to.” Another says, “Your program is a real blessing in my life.”

Recently, Queens Library’s MAB Program was named the 2011 winner of the American Library Association’s ASLCA/KLAS/NOD Award for this creative interactive programming for homebound library customers. With this innovative enhancement of the MAB Program, Queens Library continues to enrich the lives of its customers. In addition to social interaction, we are providing them with education, information and lifelong opportunities.