Traveling librarians bring world to home

Courtesy of Judith Gregg
Librarian Catherine Arbogast heads out with a personalized book delivery from the Los Altos main library.

Love of learning and curiosity about the world sometimes grow only more urgent as a person spends more and more time at home, limited by age, health condition, or both. Librarians head out from the Los Altos main library each month bearing personalized book deliveries for local readers who can’t make it to the shelves themselves.

Through its Homebound Services program, the Santa Clara County Library District makes prearranged house calls with books and media materials to local residents unable to visit the Los Altos main and Woodland Branch libraries due to temporary or long-term illness or disability. Participants range from the nuns in Los Altos’ Poor Clare monastery to seniors and sick people throughout the community.

Any resident living within the county library system’s service area is eligible if he or she has been unable to visit the library for three months or longer and continues to be physically unable to leave home without considerable effort or assistance.

New participants in the program can register for a library card and discuss what they would like to borrow with help from a librarian. Materials can be borrowed for a longer than usual period of time and are not assessed overdue fines.

“It’s very important to match up the librarian with the customer in terms of personality and customer preference – they want someone they can relate to because it’s not just the delivery of books, it’s the interaction as well,” said Judith Gregg, community librarian at the main library. “You carefully select the items that reflect the interest of the customer, and have that time with them when you can sit and chat.”

Librarians don’t always pick perfectly every time – Gregg remembers scandalizing one client whose taste for romance novels apparently met its limit with a library-supplied bodice-ripper a tad spicier than desired.

Sorting through the mistakes and coming to know each reader is an art, Gregg said, that requires listening to preferences and providing a wide enough range to simulate some of the browsing experience other local residents get among the library’s physical stacks.

“It’s not just about the books, it is about so much more than that – or can be, if it is done right,” Gregg said, remembering a relationship from back in her early days as a librarian.

A woman in her 90s receiving home service had been on the Titanic as it began to sink, and that night was still vivid in her mind. She shared the experience with Gregg, who feels lucky to this day to have received it.

Adventuring vicariously through travel books, and visiting exhibitions through museums’ glossy special publications, readers seek out experiences that transcend the walls of the home. Sharing tea with a librarian and experiencing the monthly visit also provides a human service for residents whose social world has narrowed, Gregg said.

For more information on the library district’s Homebound Services, call 948-7683 or visit

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