Once, there was a great explorer named Marco, who visited places far and wide.
Now, there is a van, also named Marco, that lets you explore the limits of your imagination and creativity.
Earlier this year, Marco set sail on its first voyage through Dauphin County, bringing with it state-of-the-art technology, customized experiences and free Wi-Fi.
“It’s literally a library on wheels, the first vehicle of its kind,” said Ann Bruner, community outreach and engagement administrator for all nine libraries in the Dauphin County Library System.
Named after the Venetian explorer, Marco Polo, the attraction promotes exploration, bringing the library’s resources directly to the people. Bruner noted that public transportation often can pose a problem for residents who wish to visit the library but can’t.
“It’s designed to give residents in both rural and urban areas better access to all of the services the library provides,” she said.
Here’s what Marco is not—a book mobile.
“Marco is an exploration station that promotes literacy of all kinds,” Bruner said. “It can teach people how to quickly access the best information.”
Marco’s cargo reflects the changing trend in learning.
Equipped with 10 laptops and a flat-screen TV mounted to its side, Marco has its own power source, offering wi-fi access to surrounding areas wherever it is stationed.
“Visitors can even bring their own devices and connect directly to the internet to explore all the services and use the tools the library offers,” Bruner said.
While Marco does carry some books, it’s also equipped with diverse resources that allow the outreach team to customize an experience for any age—from toddlers all the way to senior citizens, explained Bruner.
Since its March launch, Marco has been in high demand, traveling to such events as Artsfest in Harrisburg and school fairs, said Donna Husted, youth services specialist and, frequently, Marco pilot.
“We can help children use their summer productively—avoid the summer slide—so school isn’t so difficult for them in the fall,” she said.
Marco also delivers instruction, training and support to teenage and adult community members. This summer, Marco will visit summer camps and senior centers.
“We can offer interactive experiences that engage audiences in a variety of ways,” said Husted.
Chris Black, library supervisor at the McCormick Riverfront Library in downtown Harrisburg, said Marco helps expose people to DVDs, CDs and, of course, books.
“We want to help everyone become aware of all the great things the library has to offer,” Black said.
Connections, especially those with the underserved populations across Dauphin County, are another central objective of Marco, explained Bruner.
“We can meet the community where they are and help provide them access and education to all things, from voter registration services to how to access health information,” she said.
Bruner noted that the outreach department recently has been seeking staff members who possess second-language skills to help address the diversity within the communities. She said that non-English speakers often feel isolated and view the physical library as a daunting place.
“When the library extends a helping hand in someone’s own neighborhood, many people feel more comfortable to accept the help,” she said.
To build Marco’s outreach, the library system hopes to partner with organizations looking to better serve the community, including local food banks and ESL support organizations. Bruner envisions outreach programming that could include Marco hosting a computer class on City Island or visiting a nursing home to teach residents about digital literacy.
Marco’s busy schedule is clear evidence that there is demand for its services, and there’s even talk of adding a second van. Any expansion, however, relies on donor-funded support.
“Marco would not have been possible without the support of the donors and partner organizations,” Bruner said.
Of course, another way to support Marco is simply to get out and attend an event.
“There will be a lot going on this summer,” Bruner said.
To keep up, she hopes to offer an interactive map so people can track where Marco is around the county.
“Its extremely exciting,” she said. “The possibilities are endless.”
Author: Jen Fertenbaugh