Julie Thomas and Joyce Harrow are in charge of the Brumback Library's Homebound Outreach Service Program which takes library materials to nursing homes and individuals who can not travel to the library themselves. Here is their typical day.
BY KIRK DOUGAL
Times Bulletin Editor
Do you remember the scene from the movie "It's a Wonderful Life" when George Bailey goes searching for his wife before he realizes that Clarence has made it so that he never existed? George (Jimmy Stewart) finds Mary (Donna Reed) as she is leaving her job as the town's librarian. Mary walks down the street with her gaze cast down through horn-rimmed glasses, jumping fearfully at the slightest sound with her hair pulled back in an austere bun.
If this was Frank Capra's idea of a librarian, it is obvious he never met Julie Thomas and Joyce Harrow.
Thomas and Harrow organize and operate the Brumback Library's Homebound Outreach Service Program. The service provides library materials to individuals who are unable to go to the library because of health or physical restrictions. It started in 1960 with Gertrude Williams when she began the program with 70 patrons that she visited on a regular basis. Thomas, who has been with the library now for 22 years, was trained by Williams. Harrow joined the staff nine years ago and the pair has worked together almost from the start. Today, Thomas and Harrow service over 350 people.
"We go to all the nursing homes and individuals who are unable to come to the library," said Thomas. "Sometimes it is a temporary situation and sometimes it is for people who will need it permanently."
What they take on their rounds could also vary from day to day.
"They kind of tell us what they want to read," Harrow added. "Some people need large print and some can't see well enough to read at all so we take them books on tape. Most of our people are readers but some of them just like video tapes, CD's, and DVD's."
So far, Capra's librarian might still fit into this description. Thomas and Harrow, however, try to make their visits fun and exciting for their patrons by making them smile and usually that means dressing up. Some days that can be as simple as a silly hat or a feathery boa thrown across their shoulders while on others it can be a full-blown costume in tune with holidays like Christmas or Valentine's Day. Regardless of how elaborate that day's outfit, it is all pointed toward making the visits anticipated by the people.
A typical day for the pair starts in the library. In addition to their Homebound duties, they have regular responsibilities covering desks, restocking the stacks, helping customers and cataloging materials. People also forget that the librarians need to find time to look over new materials as they arrive so they can recommend them to library patrons.
On a day when they are going out on Homebound visits, however, they usually start by choosing and packing up the materials they will be taking with them that day. With a collection of over 195,000 items in the library, it would be impossible to do this without keeping extensive notes on their clients' likes and dislikes on a computer. Everyone is kept on a regular monthly schedule so that they are aware of what day they will not only be receiving new materials but when it will be time to turn in the previously used items. The pair criss-cross the county servicing the people and in 2007, they circulated over 40,000 books, magazines, CD's, DVD's, and even puppets as part of the Homebound Program. They usually handle the nursing and group homes together just because of the volume but then they each have their own list of individuals that they see to on their own.
"The materials that Joyce and I deliver are an intangible gift," said Thomas. "A good book in large print brings a shine to the eyes of an individual with less than perfect sight. Adventure, mystery and nonfiction materials brighten the lives of many shut-ins. I feel very proud that the Brumback Library makes it all possible. The program brings empathy of a very special kind."
As can be expected, a love of reading and books brought both of them to work as library professionals although neither started out in the industry. Thomas has a degree in Elementary Education while Harrow was a Fine Arts major. But the Homebound Outreach Program has added even more to their lives.
"Taking the books to the people is so special," said Thomas. "I think of it as nourishment of the mind. Not long ago I walked into the Convoy Care Center and I was carrying two boxes of materials so I wasn't really thinking about the fact that I had a stuffed chicken sitting on my head. The residents were up front playing bingo and the immediate smiles on their faces when they saw me made my whole day."
"When they see us dressed up in one of these get-ups, even if they aren't one of our patrons, their faces light up," added Harrow. "It is really very touching. You have touched someone, you have brightened someone's day. They are sitting there and they may not be in the best health and no one has been out to visit them so our zaniness is a welcome break."
The library industry has changed a great deal over the years since both Thomas and Harrow have been working at the Brumback Library. In the days before the west addition when the iron staircase and glass floor were still in place, books and magazines were about the only offerings for the public. Now they house CD's, DVD's, audio books, Play-A-Ways, and MP3 players. That means a whole lot more for librarians to keep up on so they can help people when they have questions.
"It's the progress of the technology," said Harrow. "The Play-A-Ways are very small, about the size of a MP3 player, and it has a whole book on it. We are testing those. John (Library Director John Carr) is very good at being aware of the new items and he will bring in a few to test and we have gotten very good responses on them. People still love to read but it is the technology of getting the book to them that has changed."
If you or someone you know would like to take advantage of the Homebound Outreach Service Program, please contact the library and ask for Thomas or Harrow. Before long, you might have an elf, cat or chicken at your front door with a book for you to read.