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Midwest Matters October 21st, 2021
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Scholarship Recipients Reflect on the Association of Bookmobile and Outreach Services Conference

Posted by on February 1st, 2021 Posted in: Blog

In October 2020, NNLM financially supported 20 library staff across the country to attend the 15th annual Association of Bookmobile and Outreach Services (ABOS) conference. Originally slated for Dallas, TX, the conference was retooled as a virtual event due to Covid-19. Most attendees agreed that there were actually benefits to the online format. NNLM All of Us presented at the conference and continues to work with ABOS on health outreach initiatives. Here, three Greater Midwest Region scholarship recipients outline favorite moments, and what they took away from the ABOS conference.


Diane Bruson HeadshotDiane Brunson, Bookmobile Librarian, Bath County Memorial Library (KY)

The “Out-Doing Outreach” ABOS 2020 annual conference was held virtually this year, and the ABOS board did a fantastic job pulling together an online conference that saw over 1,000 people in attendance. I would personally like to thank the Network of the National Library of Medicine (NNLM) for sponsoring the award that allowed me to participate in this year’s conference.

So what did I learn at ABOS? Where do I begin?

I drive the bookmobile in a rural community in Eastern Kentucky. I’ve been interested in learning how to provide health information to my patrons and while we were closed to the public earlier this year, I took the opportunity to earn my Consumer Health Information Specialization (CHIS) Level 1. I attended the NNLM and All of Us presentation and learned about the All of Us research program. I’ve installed the All of Us app on my phone and am hoping to promote this research program within my community. I’ve been exploring NNLM’s website for programming ideas that could be done virtually, via packet pickup from the library, or by bookmobile delivery service to patron’s homes in 2021 as my library does not expect to have in-house programming until 2022 at the earliest.

I attended several sessions that talked about working with elderly patrons, and the concept of Reminiscence kits. One of the neatest reminiscence ideas I came away with was turning pictures into 12 to 14 piece puzzles. What a great way to use items from our genealogy room and perhaps hear stories about our town! I may not be able to have in person programming right now, but I could create puzzle kits to drop off at the senior living facilities. The memories and stories all these activities elicit can build connections between people and help reduce depression while building self-esteem.

Ari Lazarus, from the FTC, did a presentation about fraud avoidance. He talked about all the resources available on the FTC’s website. I never knew the FTC has so much information available to libraries, even programming ideas.

I have lots of notes from the sessions I attended, but one of the greatest sources of information was the community chats. Anyone could post a question and within minutes receive dozens of replies. I serve a growing Amish community and asked for suggestions to expand the bookmobile’s collection of materials that other Amish serving communities find popular. I now have a page of authors, titles, and series I didn’t know about before.

I came away from the 2020 ABOS conference almost overwhelmed from the sheer amount of information I gathered. While we will have to wait and see what 2021 holds, I look forward to connecting with the ABOS family at the 2021 annual conference. See you in St. Louis! Or maybe virtually! However it takes place, I know I want to participate.


Anne Rhodes HeadshotAnne Rhodes, Outreach Librarian, Mansfield/Richland County Public Library (OH)

Initially, I was hoping to attend the 2020 ABOS conference in person in Dallas. I considered how wonderful it would be to be in a place with hundreds of other people who loved and understood the challenges and rewards of the Outreach department. Like many libraries, our Outreach department is very small and very few library staff members even know what we do. It seemed like a dream come true to be surrounded by rooms full of my peers. Then Covid 19 hit and I knew that our library administration wouldn’t approve the travel during such an uncertain time.

When I got the news that the conference would be virtual, I had high hopes, but thought it might be lame. We’ve all sat through those webinars where the technology isn’t great, the speaker kind of drones on and it’s really difficult to engage. Why would I want to endure four days of that? Plus, we all know that some of the best moments come from those “hallway” conversations where we all talk about horror stories, fun programs that are working in our community and the special joy that comes from those personal interactions with the public. We’re Outreach people, by our very definition we love the interactions! What’s a conference without the personal touch?

Somehow, the organizers of “Out-Doing Outreach” managed to bring the personal experience to a virtual venue. Right from the start, presenters reached out to me with individual messages that made me feel part of the conversation and the sponsors were engaging and seemed like they were talking directly to me. It was nice to be able to sit at my desk and travel to the various booths. If I wasn’t interested, it was easy to click away and not feel rude.

It was even easier to engage. It can be intimidating to approach a group of people who all seem to know each other, but with this format you could virtually butt in and it wasn’t awkward. The “communities” were wonderful and it was enlightening and fun to toggle back and forth between topics and see what others were saying. It was also easy to contribute and get your thoughts together in writing rather than trying to speak in front of a group.

The sessions I attended were insightful and engaging. From the ins and outs of bookmobiles, pop up programming and ways to keep track of our community impact, I was furiously taking notes and generating ideas that might work for my library. I learned about software programs that are worth the investment, how to implement a “couch to 5K” and got tips and tricks for attracting more people to our events. There were several times that I literally teared up hearing about the impact that Outreach programs are having around the world.

Another bonus was that I had access to programs that were scheduled during the same time slot. Often it’s very difficult to choose which program to attend at a given time. Sometimes I attend one session and then find out later that another one I had been thinking about was great. There is no FOMO in the virtual format!

It is such a bonus to be able to log in at my leisure and watch other presentations or even rewatch something that I found especially useful. Typically when I leave a conference, I’ve heard so many ideas and concepts that they are all jumbled up in my head. Now I can revisit the presentation and really absorb the content.

Despite the fact that we were “In” Doing Outreach rather than “out,” my conference experience was spectacular. The planning and work involved to make something like this happen was evident and the attention to detail was top notch. I sincerely appreciate the time that the organizers and presenters invested in making this an outstanding event. It couldn’t be easy or fun to be presenting to a screen rather than an audience.

I am truly hoping that the 2021 conference will be an in person event, but if it’s not, I have the utmost confidence that it will be informative, engaging and fun. I’ll miss the personal interactions but won’t miss the long lines for the bathroom.


Marcia Siehr HeadshotMarcia Siehr, Head of Outreach Services, Kenosha Public Library (WI)

2020 was my second chance to attend the ABOS National Conference, and once again, I was surprised and grateful for all the knowledge and contacts this conference allowed me to gain.

I am relatively new in my role as Head of Outreach Services at Kenosha Public Library, and even though I had a long career in social services before becoming a librarian, there are still so many community programs and organizations that I was not aware were available to my patrons.  Connecting with other professionals that strictly focus on Outreach is so valuable.

I’m really pleased to report that this year’s breakout sessions were terrific.  The subject matters and presenters were widely diverse, but I personally learned the most from the NNML breakout session.  Health literacy is a hot topic in the library world, and the NNML is truly an invaluable resource to an Outreach librarian.  I have plans, big plans, for 2021!  I would really like to offer the NNML Health Book Club to our patrons as a way to expand our offerings for health literacy. Additionally, I want to figure out how to launch an All of Us Kenosha County campaign and look at promoting additional citizen science activities for all ages using NNML SciStarter.

My deep gratitude to NNML for the scholarship opportunity offered to ABOS members.  I can honestly say that I did not understand the wealth of information your organization can offer to public librarians and outreach librarians such as myself.  I look forward to keeping up to date with everything NNML has to offer in the future!

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This project has been funded in whole or in part with Federal funds from the National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health, Department of Health and Human Services, under Grant Number 1UG4LM012346 with The University of Iowa.

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