by Suzanne Perez Tobias, courtesy of The Wichita Eagle
A couple of times each month, lunchtime crowds at the Pop-Up Urban Park in downtown Wichita (KS) can get their food-truck cuisine with a side of literature.
The Wichita Public Library, as part of a new outreach effort, occasionally sends “Pop-Up Librarians” to the park at 121 E. Douglas to give away books and tell urban professionals about all the resources the library offers.
“It’s about surprising people with what a library is,” said Stephanie Huff, spokeswoman for the Wichita library. “We give away books for free on a regular basis with loaning. So this is a little different, but it’s in that same vein of just celebrating the joy of reading for fun and pleasure.”
At least twice a month during the summer. a staff member from the library’s Central branch packs a few dozen books into a vintage trunk and hauls them the block and a half to the Pop-Up Urban Park.
The books, which have been donated to the Friends of the Wichita Public Library, are free for the taking. And you don’t even have to return them. Visitors are encouraged to take selfies with the librarian or their chosen book and spread the word on social media with the hashtag #PopUpLibrarian.
Huff said the program, which launched last summer, has been popular with the downtown office crowd and even some families. “I was hugged at the last one,” she said.
“What’s happening down there is a lot of great conversation and book talk with our library staff and the people about what they like to read, or recommendations for what to read next.”
The events have inspired some lapsed readers to rediscover reading for pleasure, Huff said. And although librarians aren’t able to issue library cards at the park, they have directed several people to the downtown branch to get their cards and get reading.
“What we’re seeing a lot of are people who know about the library, maybe have a library card, and just need to be reminded that we are still here,” she said. Wichita’s new Advanced Learning Library, a $33 million building that will replace the aging Central Library, is set to open next year at Second and McLean.
Officials hope the new library’s hip design, cafe, faster internet speeds and other amenities will attract a new generation of young urban library-goers. In the meantime, Huff said, librarians are taking their vintage trunk of old-school reading material to them.
“Even if you’re new out of college and busy with your life, there’s still something at the library for you,” she said. “Often they’ll tell us about how they’ve forgotten how much they love to read. They’ve gotten out of the habit, and they just need that good book to get started again.”