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Outward Mobility! San Francisco’s Mobile Outreach Services

San Francisco Public Library
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Innovation Summary

San Francisco Public Library (SFPL) consolidated four independent bookmobile programs - Library on Wheels, Early Literacy Mobile, Treasure Island, and Branch Library Improvement Program to create a comprehensive program called Mobile Outreach Services positioned to expand existing and launch new education, literacy, and lifelong learning programs.

Problem Statement

Before July 2010, SFPL operated four separate bookmobile programs out of three different organizational divisions. Two programs, the Library on Wheels (LOW) Bookmobile and the Children’s Bookmobile, were longstanding outreach programs to underserved populations, seniors and low income children, focusing on education, early literacy, and lifelong literacy and learning for seniors. Two other programs, the Branch Library Improvement Program (BLIP) Bookmobile and Treasure Island Bookmobile, had been funded with specific capital building program funds and focused service on neighborhoods where the branch library was closed for renovation. The BLIP Bookmobile was designed to serve closed branches through fall 2011, replacing 16 libraries during renovations from 2004 to 2011. The BLIP Bookmobile program allowed for purchasing three bookmobiles which were then staffed with personnel from branches that were closed for renovation. In addition, BLIP Bookmobiles added service to Treasure Island, a recently incorporated San Francisco neighborhood, populated by low-income and formerly homeless residents. During this time period, the LOW and Children’s Bookmobiles were operating with older vehicles and minimal staffing structures, resulting in a total of 67 service stop cancellations in 2009. Such cancellations undermined and weakened the impact of these outreach programs, which were intended to serve those most in need of library services but least able to visit a stationary library. The organizational and budgetary structure of the four separate bookmobile programs did not facilitate the sharing of resources, staff, vehicles, or collections. Nor were the programs able to coordinate outreach events and other city-wide mobile services. While these challenges in providing mobile outreach services were coming to the forefront, the Library’s strategic planning process focused on delivering consistent, quality public service in general, as well as outreach to underserved communities and populations specifically.


The Library set about solving the challenges of poor coordination and inefficiencies in the existing outreach programs, LOW and Children’s Bookmobiles; repurposing the BLIP Bookmobile resources; continuing Treasure Island service; expanding existing services; and developing new mobile outreach services. The investigation was conducted by the Bookmobile Area Focus Team (BAFT), a staff workgroup representing diverse stakeholders with the goal of recommending ways to solve the redundancies and inefficiencies of the current system. After thorough data gathering, discussion, debate and consideration of several options, the BAFT recommended consolidating all bookmobile programs into one work unit under one organizational division and developing a citywide mobile outreach plan. All four bookmobile programs were consolidated into the Mobile Outreach Services (MOS) unit, resulting in direct impact in responding to community needs. Immediately upon consolidation, coordination between bookmobile programs and outreach was possible. Vehicles, staffing, collections, and other resources were shared resulting in efficiencies due to economies of scale and unified management. Citywide mobile outreach planning was now possible in key outreach areas: early literacy support for low income children and children not in formal care; service to youth at risk for under-achievement (elementary and high school age); expanded services to seniors and those with mobility issues; digital outreach and technology learning to youth and those impacted by the digital divide; expanded service to Treasure Island; partnerships with other agencies to synergize outreach efforts and achieve a more meaningful impact; and attendance at a diverse range of outreach events.


By consolidating bookmobiles into one MOS unit, the Library has improved access for thousands of potential library users. Operational efficiencies, such as central oversight and sharing of staff, schedules, vehicles, collections and other resources, have resulted in a perfect service record with NO cancelled service and have freed staff time to implement new and expanded mobile outreach services. Highlights of the new program include: • Early Literacy Mobile (ELM) - support for children 0-5 years at 34 child care facilities for low income children; providing library experience; circulation; storytime modeling best practices. ELM’s “Swing into Stories” is an interactive library experience at four public playgrounds for children 0-5 years not in formal care; supports early literacy by educating caregivers regarding best practices. • Library on Wheels - seniors and others with mobility issues at 35 care facilities and four deposit stops providing lifelong access. • Youth Mobile Pilot - elementary and high school youth at public school sites where youth are at-risk for under-achievement; new service model ensures coordination with branch librarians designed to connect youth with their neighborhood library. • Museum Free Day Service - service on Free Admission Day to promote library resources and services to low income residents and to engage in a cultural narrative. • Treasure Island Bookmobile - for low-income residents in isolated community without a branch library; service hours have been expanded since consolidation. • Outreach Events - outreach at over 30 events/year; events include Pride Parade, Haight Street Fair, Asian Heritage Festival, Carnaval, Juneteenth Celebration, LitCrawl, and “Off the Grid” (gourmet food truck events). • Partnerships - SF Recreation and Parks, California Academy of Sciences, Exploratorium, SF Museum of Modern Art, and SF Zoo. • Mobile Technology Outreach – BLIP bookmobiles will be renovated into TechMobiles focused on content creation, e-learning, and community archives.