Like a 3D illustration in a children’s pop-up book, a large blue Sarasota County van bearing the words “Pop-Up Library” has sprung up, bringing books, events and other library materials to local communities without a brick-and-mortar library location. “Over time, we learned that transportation is one of the biggest barriers to accessing library resources,” says Sarasota County Director of Libraries and Historical Resources Renée DiPilato. “When we talked to the community and heard people say that it’s hard to get to the library, we wanted to make our services more accessible to them.” 

Not all Sarasota County residents live near a physical branch or have the means with which to visit it. “There’s a number of communities without a physical location in their neighborhood,” DiPilato adds, listing eastern and southern parts of the county and the Laurel Corridor as potential sites for the Pop-Up. The library website lists both the vehicle’s consistently planned stops and spontaneous visits, perhaps at parks, Boys & Girls Clubs and senior centers. The public will have the opportunity to request the Pop-Up at community events by contacting the library. Unlike a bookmobile or book bus, into which people can climb and browse, the Pop-Up comes customized with storage housing materials such as laptops, DVDs, iPads, storytime supplies and—of course—books, which can be rolled out of the vehicle. An awning at the top of the van can be pulled out to create a shady sanctuary, perfect for children’s storytime. Little readers are encouraged to lounge on the Pop-Up’s bean bag chairs or sit on the rug under the awning and let their imaginations take the wheel. “People can look through our collection, get technological help and get a library card,” says DiPilato. “Patrons can borrow an assortment of materials for all ages no matter where we are, and they can return materials to the Pop-Up when it’s back in their vicinity. Everything you do at a physical library you can do at the Pop-Up.”

While filling a van with books might sound simple, the project required a great deal of planning, including assistance from the Sarasota Board of County Commissioners and financial support from the Library Foundation for Sarasota County and the William G. and Marie Selby Foundation. In tribute to an anonymous donor who learned about the initiative while discussing it over the purchase of pistachios, the Pop-Up features a hidden pistachio in its design. With the community (and the Pop-Up) all fueled up for library fun, DiPilato is eager to incorporate it into upcoming events, like the inaugural Off the Page Literary Celebration which kicks off November 1. The event will feature author talks, book signings, workshops and visits from the Pop-Up, which will also make an appearance at the One Book One Community event next spring. 

“One of the primary goals of library services is to enable access to the world of educational, cultural and entertainment resources that we provide for all ages and interests, and this is the next step in carrying out our mission,” DiPilato adds. “It’s extremely meaningful to bring resources to communities that can’t access them and expand our reach.”