Mail-A-Book: Making the Personal Connection

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By Debbi Olley Murphy, Queens Library

Originally appeared in the Sept. /Oct. 2009 edition of Enrich Your Life, a bi-monthly publicationof the Queens Library

Queens Library’s Mail-A-Book Service allows homebound customers to borrow library materials, including books and audiobooks, regular and large-print books, movies on DVD and music on CDs without leaving their homes, nursing homes, adult care centers, or assisted living facilities. Though Mail-A-Book serves all ages, its primary customer base consists of older adults. 

Recently, with the help of a grant from the Harry and Jeanette Weinberg Foundation, Inc., the Mail-A-Book service has added a teleconferencing console so that library staff can facilitate weekly chat sessions with homebound customers. The group also has book discussions, and recently discussed Echo Park, by mystery writer Michael Connelly. The lively discussion, which included about 10 participants, veered from conversations about the plot to explanations of character development in the novel. The group also discusses poetry and short stories by authors including Ambrose Bierce, Walt Whitman, and Edgar Allan Poe.

The chat sessions include casual conversations, and some are based on agreed-upon topics. With this outreach program, callers can talk about home, family, illness, personal memories and more. Guest moderators include staff members from Queens Library’s Special Services Department and a nutritionist from Queens College. There are also Bingo games, with customers using large-print Bingo cards that have been sent through the mail, and a conference call trivia game is in the works.

Mail-A-Book has also used the teleconferencing console to include homebound participants in music and discussion programs held at Queens Library, giving them a feeling of inclusion they might not have otherwise. A great example was a one-woman show called “Rosie,” chronicling the true story behind the beginning of the modern American working woman, personified by Rosie the Riveter. With the console, homebound customers (some of whom had been real-life Rosies) were able to talk about the program with in-person library customers.

While homebound customers enjoy live programming, it seems clear that what they like the best are the book discussions and free-form chat sessions, when they are able to discuss just about anything that’s on their minds. And their responses are uniformly positive. Says Selma: “Before this program, I was a bit lonesome and bored. This has brightened my day and given me something to look forward to.” Another woman, Alice, adds, “Since I’m homebound, I never go out. I look forward to Friday mornings, when we have our chat sessions. I have a big smile on my face after our discussions.”

This newest feature of the Mail-A-Book program truly enriches lives. A regular participant, Linda, says, “As a chronically ill and visually impaired person, I feel extremely fortunate to have Mail-A-Book. The audiobooks and other diverse audio materials have contributed to my personal growth, stimulation and enrichment. I have found the Mail-A-Book staff to be courteous, responsive, and compassionate. I truly consider them friends.”

For more information about Mail-A-Book, including the teleconference group, please call 718-776-6800. You can call to find out more for yourself or for a loved one.

Queens Library is an independent, not-for-profit corporation and is not affiliated with any other library. The Queens Library serves a population of 2.3 million in the most ethnically diverse county in the U.S. With a record 23 million items in circulation for FY 2009, the Library has the highest circulation of any public library system in the U.S. and one of the highest circulations in the world. For more information about programs, services, locations, events and news, visit the Queens Library Web site at or phone at 718-990-0700.