by dona weisman, NTRLS Accessibility Consultant,
and Marci Chen, NTRLS Homebound Project Coordinator

     My grandmother called them shut-ins; today we call them homebound. We’ve changed the terminology, but little has changed in the lifestyles of those who – for whatever reason – are unable to leave their homes independently.
     Homebound individuals face a formidable challenge. How can one maintain his/her quality of life when options for leaving the house are so limited? How can those individuals continue their favorite activities and/or expand their worlds while living with such restrictive options for going places? Libraries, in turn, face the challenge of living up to their traditional role as the great equalizer and the agency which strives to make its programs and services accessible to everyone in its community. It can be argued, though, that libraries which don’t serve homebound residents are somewhat exclusive.

What Can Be Done?

     With funding from a SFY 2011 Special Projects Grant from the Texas State Library and Archives Commission, the North Texas Regional Library System (NTRLS) is partnering with three member libraries for the development, implementation and evaluation of services for homebound populations. Ultimately their experiences will help other libraries develop similar services.

Why Homebound Individuals?

     During our two-year accessibility project, NTRLS discovered a real need to reach out to individuals who would like to use their libraries but can’t easily leave their homes to do so. This led to creation of the NTRLS Homebound Project.

Who Are the Homebound?

     To assure that all partners are striving to serve the same group, NTRLS borrowed from various sources to identify members of the “homebound.” For the purpose of this project, a person is homebound if one or more of the following statements is true:

  • Leaving home is a major effort for him/her.
  • He/she is not usually able to leave home without assistance.
  • He/she should not leave home unless accompanied by a responsible person.
  • He/she rarely leaves home except to get medical care, or for short, infrequent non-medical reasons such as a trip to get a haircut, or to attend religious services or adult day care.
  • He/she leaves the house once a week or less.
  • He/she is confined to the home for medical reasons.
  • He/she cannot afford a vehicle and lives in a community where the library is not accessible by mass transportation.
  • He/she lives in long-term or short-term health facilities where group transportation is the norm.
  • Services may also be provided, under this program, to children and/or caregivers of anyone who is homebound as defined by this grant.

Are There Partners Involved?

     Vance Hunt Library Furnishings and Seniors Transportation Services, Inc., have signed on as partners for the NTRLS project. The former will provide specially painted book trucks to transport deposit collections to and from group service areas; the latter will assist with transporting materials and homebound individuals between the libraries and their residences, staying with individuals throughout the time their groups visit the local library.
     Each of the libraries may work individually with other partners as well.

Which Libraries Are Doing What?

     Three libraries were selected from seven applicants to serve as pilot project libraries under this grant. The three will provide a wide testing ground since each brings several very different things to the table.

     From its 10,000-square-foot facility, Alvarado Public Library (APL) serves a population of 4,289 in Johnson County which, with a population of 156,667 in 740 square miles, is the least densely populated of the three counties involved. APL is partnering with Meals on Wheels of Ellis and Johnson County. That organization will deliver and pick up most of the materials for the homebound program. A bilingual (English/ Spanish) library staff member will handle library card registration, circulation and packaging of materials to be delivered, coordination of activities with the Meals on Wheels program, and occasional deliveries/pick-ups on a Meals on Wheels delivery route as needed. In addition, that staff person will make deliveries/pick-ups to some individuals not being served by Meals on Wheels, such as children with disabilities.
     APL is one of 14 libraries which make up the North Texas Library Consortium.  Because NTLC shares an integrated library system, a resident in any of the 14 cities may borrow from and return to their home library items which belong to any of the 14 different libraries. Participants in APL’s homebound program will also have access to the 408,081 items in that expanded collection.
     In addition, APL plans to establish a virtual branch at a facility for seniors, transport carts of books to facilities serving individuals who are homebound and transport homebound individuals who are able to use a wheelchair or a walker to the library for programs and other library activities.
     Experiences, data and lessons learned at APL are expected to be useful to rural libraries, libraries serving populations under 5,000 and libraries just beginning a homebound program.

     The three-building Denton Public Library (DPL) serves a population of 109,561 in Denton County, which has a population of 612,357 in 958 square miles. DPL provides cardholder access to a 240,153 item collection and is testing the Netflix model as a method of providing services to cardholders who are homebound.
     Results of testing the concept could be useful to many libraries. That library’s experiences, data and lessons learned are expected to be useful, also, to urban libraries, multi-facility libraries and libraries serving populations of at least 100,000.

     From its 29,800-square-foot facility Haltom City Public Library (HCPL) serves a population of 39,987 in Tarrant County which, with a population of 1,717,435 in 897 square miles, is the most densely populated of the three counties.
     Because HCPL is a member of MetrOPAC, a seven-library consortium which includes Fort Worth Library, participants in HCPL’s homebound program will also have access to the 1,537,013 items in that expanded collection.
     HCPL established homebound services for Haltom City residents and nursing homes in 1999. Two years later, HCPL purchased a van for delivery of materials. HCPL will expand its program to include cardholders of Richland Hills Public Library (RHPL), a nearby suburban public library in a 7,860 square foot facility which serves a population of 8,214. HCPL hopes to add two retirement communities and a nursing home in the RHPL service area to the two HCPL-area nursing homes which are visited regularly by that library’s Outreach Services Librarian. Additionally, HCPL will market their program more aggressively in order to reach more residents and local day care centers. A virtual branch will be established at the Senior Citizen Center (SCC), enabling SCC members to select, check out, pick up and return materials through that facility instead of having to go to the library for them. Classes at the SCC will explain how to use the Online Public Access Catalog (OPAC), the “card catalog” which will be accessed via an OPAC computer at the SCC.
     Experiences, data and lessons learned are expected to be useful to suburban libraries, city libraries working with other city libraries, libraries serving populations up to 50,000 and libraries wishing to expand their existing services for homebound residents.

     All three libraries will provide information about the Talking Book Program and about Newsline  to residents of their communities who are homebound.

What’s in It for Other Libraries?

     Part-time librarian Marci Chen, NTRLS Homebound Project Coordinator, will work with the pilot project libraries to develop and make available for other libraries the following:

  • A blog reflecting activities, issues, concerns, success stories and other developments of the three library programs through the year
  • Policies and procedures for serving homebound cardholders, which can then be adapted by other library communities
  • A full-day workshop, in each of two NTRLS-area locations, which will share findings and results as the grant-period ends
  • An online toolkit for providing library services to homebound cardholders in rural, suburban and urban communities of all sizes

County populations listed come from the U.S. Census Bureau 2007 estimate;
city populations are those recognized for each library by TSLAC for SFY 2009 or SFY 2010.


Original Publication Date: 
December 1, 2010
Legacy Article Number: