‘Dream Bus’ Brings Library to Madison (Wis.) Schools

This photo taken Oct. 23, 2019, shows the Dane County Library Service’s Dream Bus visiting three Madison elementary schools as part of its regular schedule. (Scott Girard /The Capital Times via AP) Photo: THE ASSOCIATED PRESS

Original Article: U.S. News and World Report
Capital Times

October 26, 2019

MADISON, Wis. (AP) — Every Tuesday around 3 p.m., a few Leopold Elementary School students crowd onto a bus parked outside.

Unlike their peers who boarded yellow buses to go home 15 minutes earlier, these students exit the bus still at school. Hopefully, with a book or two in hand.

The Dane County Library Service’s Dream Bus debuted in April, and this fall it has three Madison elementary schools on its regular schedule: Leopold every Tuesday, Mendota every other Wednesday and Sandburg every other Thursday. It also visits C.H. Bird Elementary School in Sun Prairie every other Saturday morning.

Leopold community schools resource coordinator Rosie Gittens said she hopes more families will soon take advantage of the “fairly new” bus, adding that it’s an important opportunity in a neighborhood with few public gathering spaces that also covers two municipalities.


“This is a community that has very little resources,” Gittens told The Capital Times. “We don’t have a library within walking distance, we don’t have a community center. “We have the school and then that’s it.”


The bus, funded through the Madison Public Library Foundation and Goodman Foundation, is a partnership between DCLS and the Madison Public Library system that had been two-and-a-half years in planning, DCLS director Tracy Herold said.

It began with a request for DCLS to use one of its bookmobiles to serve Madison’s Owl Creek neighborhood, whose closest library is in McFarland, and not easily accessible by public transit. While DCLS generally offers services only in communities without a library, Herold said the pilot in Owl Creek is still going three years later, with between five and 12 kids showing up weekly.

That helped inspire the Dream Bus, a new and larger version of a bookmobile that serves schools and parks without easy access to a library. Families can sign up for library cards, check out books and use Wi-Fi on the bus. Herold said they’ve issued 324 cards and had 4,433 items checked out since it began.

“Kids have been pretty excited and families have been pretty excited,” Herold said.


In addition to the schools, the bus visits community centers and parks Monday through Sunday, with regularly scheduled two-hour outings.

A key to families being comfortable accessing it, Herold said, was working with MPL to waive existing fines and fees for overdue books. Gittens and Sandburg librarian Ren Schwab agreed that was helpful, and Gittens said the bus also allows families to use the library system with less concern about finding a bus to get their checked out books returned — instead, they can simply bring them to the bus on Tuesday.

“It was really a wonderful thing to encourage students and say, ‘Look, make sure you care for your books, this is a resource that we all need to share, but don’t be afraid of being punished if there’s an accident,'” Schwab said. “That was one of our concerns, but one of the things they were able to alleviate.”


The bus is helping create “well-informed civic actors,” Schwab said, who can “expand beyond the walls of the classroom” and school library, which is itself well-stocked, he said.


“Students can find any book in the world using WorldCat or inter-library loan and then that can be delivered via the book bus,” Schwab said. “To be able to find your own resources and use them, take that knowledge and make the world a better place is what we’re trying to promote, and libraries do help with that.”


It’s also a good lesson in responsibility, Schwab said, as students have to remember to bring their library card on the day the bus is coming.

Herold noted the availability of bilingual books on the bus, whose staffers speak Spanish. That allows the staff and bus to be a resource for the families of the more than 450 English Learner students at the three Madison schools.

It’s a great example of what opportunities a community school can create, Gittens said, and it was quickly appreciated by the students who have used it so far.

“Rather than families having to go and hunt for resources, we try to bring those resources here,” she said. “For a lot of them, it was just this sense of feeling lucky that this was for them.”

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