SCHENECTADY – Schenectady City School District’s mobile library is set to hit the streets Wednesday after upgrades to a donated school bus, an expansion of a diverse collection of books and a general sense of things reopening.
The district bookmobile, newly wrapped in student art, is scheduled to visit four locations around the city Wednesday, offering students who have spent the year learning remotely a chance to check out new books. “We are going to bring the books to the students,” said Michael Sheridan, a library media specialist at Oneida Middle School. “We are trying to make sure everyone understands reading doesn’t stop in June and gear up again in September.”
The district bookmobile program was established years ago as teachers volunteered to hand out books at an annual block party and other events throughout the city, relying on teachers’ cars to carry the haul of books from one place to the next. Like most other school programs, the bookmobile went all virtual during the pandemic, expanding the collections of e-books available to students.
But after Northland Transportation donated a small school bus to the district and SEFCU pitched in to fund wrapping the bus in decorative art, the bookmobile that will cruise the city’s streets Wednesday is a more-fully-realized vision of the bookmobile than has yet been seen.
The bookmobile, helmed by the district’s team of library media specialists, aims to build excitement around reading and introduce to students new books from diverse authors and with diverse characters. The chief goal, the librarians said, was to give all students in the city access to books where they can “see themselves” in the characters and authors.
“The reflection of our students in our books is the primary goal,” said Carmella Parente, the district director of educational equity and instructional support.
The idea is simple enough: kids are more likely to get interested in and actually read a book they can connect to on a personal level, and if kids are reading then they are learning. The diverse texts can also strengthen students’ awareness of the differences that shape society.
The district last year won a $15,000 grant from educational book publisher Follett, enabling a large expansion of titles ahead of this summer’s bookmobile ventures.
The bookmobile collection, which will constantly change in an effort to ensure students always find new titles, consists of books published in the last two years. Many of the books filling the bookmobile last week as the librarians prepared it for this week’s outing were brand new copies; students will have the chance to crack the spine of a new book.
“We’ve loaded up as much as we can right now,” library specialist Megan Eddy said, noting more than half of the bookmobile overall collection could not fit for the first bookmobile run this week.
The bookmobile will also include some adult books – like Michelle Obama’s memoir Becoming – and the librarians said they plan to encourage parents to share in searching for and reading books with their kids.
“It’s a family event to sit down and read,” said Kris Marotta, an elementary school library specialist. “We encourage parents to pick out a book with their little ones.”
The new bookmobile will carry the mark of student art as it drives around the city. The donated bus was wrapped in a large print of digital art produced by Schenectady High School junior Alyssa Gangaram.
The junior’s design depicts the kinds of faces she sees every day in school: all kinds. Books stacked beneath and behind the diverse, smiling faces offer a window into countless new worlds, she said.
“I went for something that would show reading in the light I see it, in such an immersive way,” Gangaram said. “I think reading is like a window into so many different worlds, and I thought it would be great to include the diversity of the community and the inclusivity of books.”
Gangaram, who said it will be surreal on Wednesday when she tracks down the bus carrying her artwork around the city, said she thinks the district’s diversity is one of its biggest strengths.
“I really think the diversity of Schenectady is such a good thing we have going for us,” Gangaram said. “I think diversity is such a good way to learn about other cultures and people and to get to know people well before you go off into the world.”
The bookmobile will make stops at the following locations Wednesday:
- 11:30 a.m. to noon: Saline Street near Yates Elementary School
- 12:30 p.m. to 1 p.m.: In front of Central Park Middle School
- 1:30 p.m. to 2 p.m.: In front of Hamilton Elementary School
- 2:30 p.m. to 3 p.m.: In front of Van Corlaer Elementary School