News & Opinion

Charlotte Mecklenburg Library Aims to Increase Access With Mobile Library

A side view of the mobile library truck
Charlotte Mecklenburg Library’s new mobile library, MoLi, hit the streets on Jan. 18. (Courtesy of CM Library)

In order to connect more people and lower any barriers to access, Charlotte Mecklenburg Library is taking a page out of its own book. 

The library system is bringing back its mobile library concept after a 56-year hiatus with the launch of “MoLi,” a 33-foot-long vehicle with free Wi-Fi, a side awning for outdoor programming, eight public-use Chromebooks and the capacity to hold up to 2,400 physical materials including books, audiobooks, magazines, CDs and DVDs.

MoLi will make its first stops on Jan. 18 at Tyvola Centre Apartments and Cedar Knoll Apartments in Yorkmount, followed by a visit to The Retreat at Renaissance in west Charlotte. Additional stops are planned across Charlotte for Jan. 20, 24, 26 and 27, with a community celebration planned at Eastway Regional Recreation Center on Jan. 29.

The event runs from 10 a.m. to noon and includes a ribbon cutting, tours, a nature storytime, a puppet show and a storytime in Spanish.

“There was this recognition that we have so many people in the community who aren’t taking advantage of library resources, either due to barriers that they experience or due to the simple fact that we’re not available readily in those communities,” said Saul Hernandez, Charlotte Mecklenburg Library’s mobile library coordinator.

“To that effort, we looked to the past and recognized we have implemented solutions like this in the past and why not dust them off, renovate and add a few more bells and whistles and bring them out to the community again.”

Charlotte’s first mobile library was introduced in December 1937, under the leadership of James E. Gourley, director of what was then called Charlotte Public Library. In 1949, using funding from the North Carolina Alcohol Beverage Control Commission, the library was able to purchase two new “bookmobiles,” including one that would center its services in the Black community. Unfortunately, due to growing expenses, both vehicles went into retirement in 1966. 

According Jessica DiGiovanni, Charlotte Mecklenburg Library’s marketing and communications specialist, bringing back the mobile library in 2022 is part of Mecklenburg County’s vision for residents to have equitable access to high-quality education and be prepared to meet the needs of employers. 

Shelves of books line the inside of the mobile library
The mobile library can hold up to 2,400 physical materials including books, audiobooks, magazines, CDs and DVDs.
(Courtesy of CM Library)

The idea, then, is to bring the mobile library as close to a full brick-and-mortar library experience as possible. MoLi will offer access to adult, teen and children’s collections, materials checkouts and returns, technology, online resources and databases, library card services, staff support and programs for all ages.

Additional features include an onboard and external audiovisual system equipped with an external 65-inch display and two additional displays inside, plus a speaker system with microphones for programming. MoLi is powered by a diesel generator and a power inverter supported by four solar panels on the roof.

MoLi will make about a dozen stops a week, varying from one to two hours in duration, in communities that have been identified as having a low library user base, limited access to virtual services and are also physically distant from the nearest branch. Stops will be on a three-week rotating schedule, meaning MoLi will return to a previous location once every three weeks.

Residents can view the monthly schedule on the Charlotte Mecklenburg Library website or the CMLibrary mobile app, and also submit a request for a stop in their neighborhood.

The plan is to eventually partner with schools and retirement communities and offer mobile library services tailored to specific demographics, but for now the library is focusing on building relationships in the community and feeling out the need.

“It will be a little bit of trial and error and then looking at some data after six months to see what was the most effective,” DiGiovanni said.

“We do know that there is that undercurrent need for expanding digital literacy in Mecklenburg County, for workforce development, professional development and targeting some of the effects we have seen from COVID, such as declining early childhood literacy scores and reading levels,” Hernandez added. “It’s a fully encompassing service that we want to really give users the ability to define their own experience through.

“MoLi is sort of like water in that she’ll fit in whichever cup you pour her in and we just need to learn what shape we need to take.”

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