The Ocean City Branch of the Worcester County Library

A mobile library vehicle that can bring books and Wi-Fi hotspots to underserved areas is coming to Worcester County in the next year.

On Oct. 5, the Worcester County Commissioners approved funding for a “mobile library unit,” as requested in a memo from Libraries Director Jennifer Ranck, using a $100,000 American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) grant issued by the Institute of Museum and Library Services, via the Maryland State Library.

“This is more than just a traditional bookmobile,” Ranck said. “It’ll be used at outreach events. We anticipate regularly taking it places that people are — bringing it to schools, childcare centers, Head Start (childhood programs). We also want to make sure it’s available for, say, a First Friday event, farmers markets, community fairs (et cetera).”

With production line backups caused by the covid-19 pandemic, it’s not likely that the county library’s vision will be realized in the coming weeks or months, but with funding locked in, the biggest hurdle has been cleared.

“It’s something that’s been in our strategic plan for a few years, wanting to have that connection with the community,” Ranck added. “When covid hit, it just became obvious that we wished we had something like this, to have materials outside. It brought this idea to the forefront.”

Ranck envisions a walk-up vehicle instead of one people would board but stressed that designs are not near final. It could end up being a passenger van or a large pickup truck, for instance.

Another key feature Ranck is targeting is making the vehicle Wi-Fi-accessible, allowing the county library to assist residents who don’t have access to broadband internet.

Serving residents in need of assistance is a key function of the project as a whole, Ranck said. The unit could also help teenagers and adults with services like job searching and online tutoring.

For some, it could help just having a more accessible library.

“For some people, getting to our actual buildings can be difficult,” Ranck said.

 “We want to take away that barrier. It puts us out in the community more to tell people about the things the library has for them. Circulating books and Wi-Fi hotspots allows us to get out there.”

This story appears in the print version of Ocean City Today on Oct. 15, 2021.

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