FRESNO, Calif. — Librarian Shannon Morrison recently drove a large bus into a Walmart parking lot while wearing a long blue skirt covered with prints of Hawaiian hibiscus flowers.
“She’s one to try anything,” says fellow Fresno County community librarian Michelle Gordon. “She’s very adventurous.”
Hearing this across the parking lot, the normally soft-spoken Morrison raises her library voice to project excitement: “I think that’s part of why I find it so much fun — it’s like an adventure!”
Morrison is no ordinary librarian, and she drives no ordinary bus. She’s the guardian of the Digibus — a new mobile computer classroom manned by librarians that hit the road at the end of January bound for Fresno County communities with the aim of bringing computer literacy and job-search skills to all.
“I never thought in a million years that I’d be driving a Winnebago that’s almost 40 feet around the community,” Morrison says, “but it really fits my personality. … A lot of people don’t realize how much I’m outgoing, and how much I like to come to them and be really with them and care for them and be a part of who they are — not so much waiting for them to come to me.”
Morrison and her Digibus came to the aid of people in Kerman recently. Maria Batres was among the people who boarded the bus parked in the Walmart parking lot. The 43-year-old mother of five and grandmother of three is working to better understand how to use a computer so she can access online resources to help her learn English and study to become a U.S. citizen.
Batres used a computer for the first time two years ago. She says many of her friends and family members don’t have a computer at home and are also still learning how to use them.
Batres has seasonal work driving a truck. She says she likes truck driving, but hopes more education can help her get a better job working at a restaurant.
During her Digibus visit, Batres was assisted by Maria Conchas, a bilingual instructor and interpreter. Three other women — one with a baby in a stroller — boarded the bus after Batres on a Thursday morning to use some of the 12 computer tablets with keyboards.
The bus was donated by Reading and Beyond and was transformed into a mobile computer classroom last year thanks to a $90,000 state library grant, with matched funds from the county. The transformation includes a futuristic blue paint job featuring computer coding.
The Digibus has stops scheduled through June, but Morrison expects its travels to continue long into the future. It now visits two communities a month for one week each.
Digibus services, all provided at no cost, currently include teaching basic computer skills, such as how to use email and browse the internet, along with job preparedness — including resume writing and searching and applying for jobs online. These resources, along with the schedule of bus stops, also are available online at fresnolibrary.org/digibus.
Morrison says a future bus tour could include more advanced training, like how to create videos and apps, but before that happens, a number of young people surveyed asked librarians to first focus on helping their parents with “digital literacy.” One recent Digibus visitor didn’t know how to use a computer mouse.
The Digibus is part of Fresno County Library’s WoW! program — which stands for a library “without walls.” Among the WoW! projects is a mobile library that travels to senior living facilities and schools.
One of Morrison’s most rewarding experiences on the Digibus was helping a farm worker finish her resume to apply for new work. The woman was able print her resume on the bus and leave with it in hand.
Morrison hopes to help many more on her Digibus adventures.
“Drop all hinderances, approach the bus,” Morrison says to all. “Come in, we’re friendly, we’re nice, we want to serve you — even if it’s just to get a library card … or even if you just want to sit somewhere that’s cool or warm. Come in. Come in, spend some time on there. It’s here for you.”