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What is the home library service?

Home library service is a service to housebound residents of the City of Boroondara. Although many of our clients are elderly, people may be housebound for a number of reasons – during a difficult pregnancy, after surgery, due to a long term debilitating illness. Some can no longer drive. They face increased periods of time alone. Their relatives struggle to cope with the changes in their situation. We therefore bring the library service to home to them.

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How many people have signed up for the service? And how many people do you deliver to?

We currently have two hundred and thirty five Home Library Service members spread across our five library branches. Each one receives an initial library assessment in which we talk about their reading tastes, favourite authors, genres, and their interests in general. We also discuss the materials they may like to receive – large print books, regular print books, DVDs, CDs, magazines, talking books. The librarian then makes up a profile and selects items for the client on the basis of this profile. The client’s items are then delivered by a team of volunteers. Some residents order only two or three items per month. Others receive two or three bulging bags full. But no matter how big the delivery, for many it is a lifeline. The deliverer need only be running half an hour late for us to start receiving anxious phone calls:

‘Hello, dear, this is Mrs. Bloggs. I haven’t received my books yet.’

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The volunteers take a couple of hours to do their deliveries. We couldn’t do without them. They are a vital link in our chain. They chat with clients, jotting down feedback in information notebooks and feeding it back to us. Many develop friendships. We recently lost one of our clients to another library service. She’d moved into an aged care facility outside of the City of Boroondara. It was a huge move and I hated having to explain that we could no longer deliver to her. She took the news with good grace and we talked about how she might access another library service. Though during the course of our conversation, I sensed that her grief was as much about losing our service as about losing contact with her volunteer. I asked if she’d like me to pass on her new phone number to the deliverer.

‘Oh yes,’ the words came out with a woosh. ‘I miss her, you know. She’s been delivering for ever so long.’

When I passed on her details to the volunteer there was no question of just phoning. She said she would visit. I have no doubt she did – and is still visiting. She too had come value the friendship.

How long have you been working as a home library service librarian?

I have been working in HLS for about three years. Prior to that I worked in youth services. A bit of a drastic change, you might say. But not so very drastic. Librarian’s are passionate about getting the right information to the right client in the best and most efficient manner. As public librarians our clients information needs take a very human face. Whether it is a child doing a school project, his mother learning English, or a person living out the last days of a terminal illness, our job doesn’t change – we listen, respond, and try to give people the materials they need.

Who benefits from this service?

The obvious answer is the housebound clients. But I think we can fling our net wider than that. The volunteers clearly benefit as do the family members of the clients. We also serve the many excellent aged care facilities located in the City of Boroondara. In addition to our housebound clients, we make up small library collections for these institutions and with the help of other non-home library, library staff (workplace volunteers, I think you would call them) we change these collections monthly, delivering around 1670 items across forty one institutions.

What do you enjoy most about being a home library service librarian?

Choosing books. It is like giving people a Christmas present. sometimes, you come across a title and think: Ah…that would be perfect for Mrs Kaphoops! Added to which, this generation of elderly are a polite, community minded group. As they grow older and frailer, they also, in many cases, become grateful for the smaller things. We get letters and phone calls, from time to time. Or simply a message scribbled by the volunteer in our communication books.

‘Doris said to tell you she really liked this months books.’

I have a have a lady on my list who is somewhere up close to a hundred years in age. Every month she gets some fiction and a book on water colour painting. Others try new authors and new genres. I have just had my first elderly clients pick up iPads. They are old and frail. Some are young and dying. But they are all still learning, that’s what impresses me. As I watch people’s attitudes, I think I am learning how to age.

With the arrival of e-books and an increasingly digital-minded generation, where do you see the future of home library services? (A bit off topic, perhaps, but I’m curious to hear your thoughts 😉 )

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The arrival of the eBook, promises great scope for housebound people. In a social networking sense and in terms of the materials they can access. Many of my clients need large print. But not all books come out in this format. Some say: “I need a large print book that is not too heavy.” This of course is a problem. Large print means more pages. Paper is heavy. Their choices are limited.

Potentially, when our eBook collections are big enough, a person with an eReader will be able to access a huge range of titles – that never go out of print. They will be able to change the font to suit their eye sight. Choose an eReader to suit their dexterity and strength. What does that mean for my job? I’m not really sure. Maybe I’ll be running online book discussion groups? Loading up items for those who are too frail to do so? Or using my knowledge to make recommendations? Recently, I had my first email from one of my new iPad users. I was able to respond quickly and write to her about her choices. I think this kind of ongoing conversation is important. It helps me do my job and breaks down the client’s sense of helplessness.

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Last week, for the first time, we also held a technology try out event for Seniors Week. Seniors could come with their own device and learn to download our eBooks or eAudio talking books. Or alternately, if they are thinking of making the leap, they could play around with some of the library’s devices. It was great fun. People actually came – and requested more such events in the future. This supplements our already existing Computer Savvy Seniors program, in which senior volunteers teach basic computing skills to older members of the community.

Of course, not all clients are pleasant. I’ve had suicide threats (no, the books weren’t late) and intoxicated clients, even a threat of legal suit. But that just makes the job more interesting. And despite those odd occurrences – in the Home Library Service I know I am definitely making a difference.

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