July 1, 2022
Of the factors that define a successful public library, free, equal, and open access to information is one of the most essential. But what about the members of our communities who cannot easily travel to their local library due to age, illness, accident, disability, or other factors? That’s where library homebound (or "outreach") programs come in — providing home delivery options to patrons who couldn’t access library materials in any other way.
As of 2022, the homebound program at the Marathon County Public Library (MCPL) has been going strong for 50 years under the guidance of three successive coordinators — Beth Scott (1972–1976), Barb Ritchie (1976–2007) and Paula Langenhahn (2007–present). The homebound coordinator personally interacts with patrons in the program to identify needs and resolve any issues. The homebound program also depends on a dedicated group of volunteers to select materials for these patrons according to their reading preferences and preferred schedule.
"Homebound couldn’t do its job without volunteers, or the people who purchase items, shelve them and check them in," says Langenhahn, "It’s a well-oiled machine."
Selected materials are delivered by mail, courier, or volunteers, and returned the same way within five weeks. There is no charge for this service, but a valid MCPL library card is required. Available materials include books of all kinds — fiction and nonfiction (including large print), books on CD, magazines, movies and TV series on DVD, music CDs, research materials and more. Additionally, MCPL can help patrons obtain items from the Wisconsin Talking Book and Braille Library (WTBBL).
The term "homebound" may invoke the image of an elderly person in frail health, but in fact, people of all ages and backgrounds may find themselves unable to easily leave their homes. Qualifying factors may include (but are not limited to):
- permanent physical disability;
- recovery from illness, injury or surgery;
- visual impairment;
- age-related challenges;
- mental illness;
- cognitive challenges;
- house arrest or legal restrictions on visiting the library;
- having no other way to obtain library materials (such as via family and friends).
A statement from a medical professional is not needed to register for the homebound program, and enrollments may be temporary or long term — anywhere from a month to many years.
"For so many [homebound patrons], it’s a highlight of their month getting those orange bags in the mail," says Langenhahn, "They don’t know what they would do if they didn’t get these items from the library. It’s an important connection to the outside world."
To learn more or register with the library’s homebound program, call 715-261-7248 or email email@example.com. The library also accepts referrals of family members and friends in need of these services.
image credit: Image by Ben Krombholz, Marathon County Public Library staff. Edited by Sarah Severson, Marathon County staff.