Leah Gernetzke
Minocqua’s library outreach program, ‘Library to You,’ promotes lifelong learning

Published in The Lakeland Times

This old lackluster black, town-owned police truck is nothing special.

Its battery regularly falters, faded orange lights perch upon its top like tired warnings, and streaks of sludge and salt encrust the tire rims and sides from messy winter roads.

But despite these imperfections, pulling into a parking lot with it generates almost as much excitement in the neighborhood as the ice cream truck on a hot July day.

That’s because of the large removable magnets on both sides that read, “Minocqua Public Library Outreach, Library to You,” transforming this old police truck into a friendly library ambassador.

As part of the Minocqua Public Library’s outreach program, interlibrary loan outreach coordinator Alyssa Cleland delivers books in the truck every first and third Tuesday of the month to individuals who aren’t able to get to the library.

Cleland said senior citizens are among her biggest patrons.

“We started because there is a large senior community and we were contacted by some senior communities in town,” she said.

Library staff member Barb Young originally founded the outreach program in 2005, setting up a delivery schedule and an Excel database to store information on patrons’ preferences. She provided books and other library materials to three facilities in town.

Since Cleland took the program over in 2007, the program has expanded to serve approximately 10 facilities, as well as several homebound individuals.

Included on Cleland’s route are the Island Estates and Wood Court Apartments, Seasons of Life, the Senior Center, Lakeland Village, One Penny Place, Avanti, the Pastime Club at Ascension Lutheran Church, Howard Young Medical Center, and K-Care.

Several of the facilities share 12 rotating deposit collections of 20-25 books. Each facility keeps the books for two months, and never has the same collection twice.

“The hardest part about doing it is trying to find books that people haven’t read,” Cleland said. “I try to buy as much as I can to keep up with the demand.”

While the funding for the books primarily comes from private donations, the program is funded through the county. That’s why Cleland can’t deliver materials directly to individuals or facilities in other counties.

“We also can’t impede on different library districts,” Cleland said. “For example, I can’t go into Newbold because it’s in Rhinelander’s district.”

Though nearly all the books Cleland delivers are large print, the patrons may also order small print. They may also make special requests for books they’re particularly interested in reading.

“It’s custom-made, almost,” said Pauline Whitehead, an Island Estates resident. “You ask her what you want and she provides.”

Whitehead, who grew up in Montreal, Canada, said she most enjoys reading biographies about U.S. presidents, as it helps her better understand her adopted country.

Currently, she’s delving into the Lincolns’ lives through a biography brought by Cleland at the most recent deposit collection rotation.

“It’s made a tremendous difference in my life, and I’m most grateful for it,” she said. “The elderly need to exercise their minds. It’s entertaining and it opens up another world for us.”

Other residents at the facilities are highly appreciative of the program as well, and many use the delivery period as a social hour as well as a time to select their next read; Cleland said many come from their rooms and discuss their literary adventures.

“We really appreciate what the library does for us and we count on the books,” said Marge Nelson, another Island Estates resident.

Nelson said the personal connections Cleland has established has made it especially successful in the area.

“Alyssa knows our likes and dislikes; she’s very accommodating and one-of-a-kind,” she said. “For a small area, we are well taken care of.”

Cleland estimates that the program has served more than 50 people in its five years of operation.

“We have a really great program and serve a lot more people than other libraries our size, and that’s probably because of our demographics,” she said. “Trying to remember what everyone likes and all of their names keeps me on my toes, too.”

The program’s scope expands beyond the usual book deliveries, however.

“I deliver audio cassettes to a woman who’s almost blind and has Parkinson’s disease, and I brought Elvis Presley videos on his birthday at Avanti,” Cleland said. “I’ve also brought children’s books for people who had their grandchildren visiting.”

She also recently purchased a Wii with games such as lawn darts and bowling, which has provided social interaction for the seniors.

“One blind woman especially likes Wii bowling because she can feel the ball hit the gutter,” Cleland said. “It’s really neat for her to have that sensation, because she can’t normally bowl, and she gets a lot of reinforcement from everyone else.”

So, while that old lackluster black, town-owned police truck is nothing special, as it turns out everyone’s mothers have been right all along: it’s what’s inside that counts.