This Spotlight originally appeared in the July/August 2023 issue of Information Today.
Traveling any time of year is great, but there’s something special about getting away in the summer—the schools are closed, the days are long, and the weather is warm. In honor of the summer season in the U.S., I checked in with some public libraries to see what travel resources they offer. If you’re looking to create a more robust collection of travel and vacation services at your library, I hope you take inspiration from what these library workers have been doing. And maybe you’ll even get an idea about where to take your own next trip.
PROMOTING LIBRARY TRAVEL RESOURCES
Pikes Peak Library District (PPLD) in Colorado provides a Springshare LibGuide called Travel Resources. “This guide offers online and print resources related to traveling in the U.S. and abroad,” it states. Four library databases are highlighted. Countries and Their Cultures is described as presenting “the cultural similarities within a country that set it apart from others by examining over 200 countries to document the myriad ways in which culture defines and separates the nations of the world as much as geographical borders do.” CultureGrams provides cultural information on 200-plus countries as well as reports about the U.S. states and the Canadian provinces and territories. Mango Languages teaches more than 70 languages. And A to Z Maps Online features downloadable maps, including more than 100,000 royalty-free maps for noncommercial use.
Carla Bamesberger, public relations and marketing manager at PPLD, put together a list for promoting library travel resources, using PPLD’s collections as an example. Libraries can use this as a starting point for marketing materials. She shares the following options:
- Travel books—Libraries offer a variety of travel books that anyone can use to help plan their next trip. You’ll discover guide books to help you navigate and find amazing sights whether you’re traveling abroad or locally. If you’re not sure where you’re going yet, there are travel books with a more general overview of intriguing suggestions.
- Wi-Fi and computer availability—Libraries offer free Wi-Fi and computer access, which can help anyone without a home computer or reliable internet access plan for travel. Many libraries will also have things like hotspots or computers for checkout. Stop by your local library and get connected! These are also excellent resources to use while you’re traveling.
- Travel Resources Guides—Some libraries will have online guides filled with travel resources to help people prepare for their next trip. These lists will often contain reading suggestions, links to useful websites and databases, and other information such as … resources for learning cultural information.
- Language learning—Libraries often have language-learning resources that can help anyone planning to travel abroad in the future. Resources may include online language learning programs such as Mango Languages, books for language learning, and even language classes or conversation groups.
- State Park Passes—For more-local travel, many libraries offer state park passes that library cardholders can use to access parks they plan to travel to within their state.
- Museums and other local attractions—Many libraries offer entry passes to local museums and attractions, like Pikes Peak Library District’s Culture Pass that library cardholders can check out. If you’re traveling locally, these passes can open up new opportunities to enrich your trip. However, even if you’re not local and can’t check out these passes, a library’s webpage about the passes they offer can inspire you. If you’re traveling within the U.S. in the near future, find the website of the library district where you will travel, and get inspired!
Bamesberger also called attention to the econtent that libraries offer, which allows you to “take nearly infinite entertainment with you wherever you go without weighing down your luggage.” PPLD uses Freegal for music streaming; Hoopla and Libby for ebooks, e-magazines, and e-audiobooks; and Hoopla and Kanopy for streaming movies and TV shows. Children’s content is available via TumbleBooks Library.
PASSPORT SERVICES AND A TRIP FLOWCHART
Chely Cantrell, library brand innovation officer at Tampa-Hillsborough County Public Library, part of the Hillsborough County Public Library Cooperative in Florida, says her library “was identified as having branch locations that existed in areas that were underserved for passport application acceptance,” so some of the locations became official passport application acceptance facilities. The library has a webpage called Traveling? Start Your Journey at the Library that acts as a flowchart for patrons planning a vacation. This “grew from a desire to provide customers with additional resources that were available to them from the library to assist their travel planning,” says Cantrell. When someone makes a passport appointment, the library staffer gives them printed materials that advertise that page and the resources that the page lists and links to.
The page begins with the promise, “Whether you’re planning a staycation or dream vacation, the Library will help you get there.” Next is a link to schedule a passport application appointment, and then the flowchart begins with the library’s general resources, such as travel magazines and travel guides to decide where to travel and how to get there. Packing help is next, with a guide from the TSA, the library’s packing checklist, a link to luggage regulations by airline, and more. Then, get prepared for the trip “with library apps to learn phrases in a new language or find tips on taking Instagram-worthy photos.” This step also lists library classes that may be useful, such as Bird Watching 101. The last step for trip prep is how to keep busy on the flight: The library plugs its Playaway Launchpads for kids, ebook and e-audiobook collections, and other services. When travelers get home, the library is there to help them preserve their memories “in an album, slide show, or movie with the library’s editing tools” and by attending one of its online classes on Photoshop, scrapbooking, and more. The page concludes with the suggestion for patrons to use #HCPLCTravels on Instagram to share their travel photos with the library.
Cantrell says Tampa-Hillsborough County Public Library’s travel resources—both print and digital—“have always been a staple item that is requested by our community.” Her advice for libraries is to feature “small collections that offer practical application to their day-to-day life.” That makes them easier to advertise and simpler to navigate, she says. Libraries “offer so many great resources it can be extremely intimidating.” It’s important when talking to patrons to put yourself in their shoes and think about what travel resources you would use yourself, Cantrell notes.
“I am a big fan of hiking our National Parks and still love looking through Fodor’s, Lonely Planet, and Moon guides for trail maps and lodging suggestions,” says Cantrell. She used her library’s resources to plan her favorite trip, to Zion National Park in Utah, where she hiked The Narrows, a slot canyon with unique rock formations.
SHARING TRUSTED SITES FOR TRAVEL PLANNING
Caitlin Hawe-Ndrio, head of adult services at Moorestown Library in New Jersey, says physical travel guides are popular there. Library workers steer patrons toward titles by publishers such as Eyewitness and Lonely Planet. The library’s online travel resource, part of its Research Center reference collection, provides a variety of links to sites that can help patrons plan a vacation, along with the library’s short summaries of each site, divided into sections. For example, under Reservations and Accommodations, patrons can find links to Travelocity, Expedia, and other booking sites, as well as GoPetFriendly, a site that helps people find places they can take their “four-legged family members.” The Getting There section includes a link to the National Traffic and Road Closure Information database from the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Federal Highway Administration. Users can search for their specific state to plan their route “around potential trouble spots” such as road repairs. A related section, Travel Advisories, also lists government travel sites, including the CDC’s Traveler’s Health page, which tracks “disease outbreaks, country health information, and much more.” The Public Transportation section lists information about regional rail lines such as NJ Transit, and the Learning the Language section links to free language-learning sites.
Hawe-Ndrio likes to travel to Europe—her favorite trip was a family visit to Greece in 2019—and to Vermont and upstate New York. To plan a vacation, she says, she looks “for online virtual guides and local recommendations for attractions and restaurants.”
JOINING FORCES WITH A TRAVEL EXPERT
Bellmore Memorial Library in New York partners with an independent travel site to expand its patrons’ knowledge of other regions. The library “is proud to offer our patrons the ability to travel the world without ever leaving your living room! Enjoy 30-40 minute videos on a variety of foreign locations brought to you by the Savvy Sightseer,” its website states. These locations include cities such as Amsterdam, London, and Stockholm, as well as sweeping country tours of Austria, France, Iceland, and New Zealand. The library purchased 13 destinations in total to showcase on its site. The Savvy Sightseer is a self-described “single senior” named Jeanne from Long Island, New York, whose platform shares information about European and U.S. vacation spots, the programs she runs at various libraries, general travel and solo travel tips, and recipes from her travels.
“I reached out to Jeanne the Savvy Sightseer in August of 2021 over email expressing interest in working together,” says Chris Ham, Bellmore Memorial Library’s adult program coordinator. “I was looking around the internet for new adult programs and came across her website. I saw all of the exciting destinations that she offers and thought that our patrons would enjoy watching them, especially during the pandemic. Our partnership entails being allowed to host the links to her travelogues publicly on our website in perpetuity after we purchased them.”
Although this endeavor started when people were unable to travel, it’s worth keeping. “Now patrons also use it to get a preview of a travel destination and get recommendations on where to visit before they go. In addition to the travelogues, the Bellmore Memorial Library also offers up to date travel books that patrons can take out,” Ham says. His advice for libraries looking to team up with a travel blogger or other travel expert is to first gauge the interest of the community. Be open to discovering and trying out new types of programs. “All it takes is an email expressing interest to get things started,” he says.
Ham’s recent trips have taken him to Philadelphia, Buffalo, and Orlando. “I like to travel to different cities to meet up with friends, go to museums, and try new restaurants,” he says. His tip for planning is to “look on social media for videos by local food and travel bloggers.” One of his favorite vacations was a family trip to Niagara Falls: “We experienced both the NY and the Canadian side of the falls together by hiking around the parks, sailing on the Maid of the Mist, and taking lots of pictures.”
PROVIDING TIPS FOR LOCAL TRAVEL
Katie Leone, marketing and communications manager at Sno-Isle Libraries in Washington, knows that the Pacific Northwest has a lot to offer her community, and the library highlights that. “There is nothing like summer in the [Pacific Northwest] and Sno-Isle Libraries has guidebooks, … Discover Passes to visit state parks, and books for inspiration to build the perfect staycation experience. We had a lot of positive feedback on our staycation inspiration post. This post directly aligns with our communities’ interest and brings them into the library,” she says. The post is a March 30, 2023, entry on the library’s blog, which advocates for people to “[e]njoy the beautiful, multifaceted area where we live. Plan your perfect staycation adventures with help from the library.” It lists books about the Pacific Northwest and links to other travel guides, explains what the Discover Pass is, and reminds people that the Sno-Isle Libraries app and Libby facilitate on-the-go entertainment.
“The Discover Passes being available at Sno-Isle Libraries has helped connect people with the outdoors,” says Leone. “It has been very well received by our communities and has been very popular. People are always very excited to hear about this program, and personally I love having this as an option when we are getting ready to hit the trails. Plus, customers can borrow hiking books to go with the pass.” The pass grants access to more than 100 Washington state parks, 350-plus recreation sites (campgrounds, picnic areas, etc.), nearly 700 water-access points, and more. The library lends the pass for 1 week, and patrons are encouraged to place it on hold; as of this writing, there are 42 passes that are either checked out or on hold.
Leone notes that “a lot of times customers are excited to share their upcoming trip when they are checking out a travel book.” Sno-Isle Libraries staffers provide personalized travel recommendations when people express interest. “Booklists are a great way to bring people together and into the library,” Leone says, such as the one featured on its blog. She uses guidebooks and hiking books to plan her own trips; she narrows down her search and then looks for campgrounds nearby. “During the summer, since it is so beautiful in Washington my family likes to stay local. We love to take full advantage of our hikes, lakes, and camping. This summer we have multiple local camp trips planned,” she shares. Her family also uses the library to gain information about a place they visited. “After we camped next to the tide pools and explored the creatures, we checked out a book to learn more about their habitat,” she says.
One of her favorite trips outside the Pacific Northwest was to Glacier National Park in Montana, with stops in Banff and Jasper national parks. “One of our campgrounds was moved due to bears going into [a] tent (no thank you) and we ended up right next to Two Medicine Lake [and] got to experience the calm and beauty at sunrise. It was very memorable and an unplanned detour which is a good reminder [that] even with planning you must be open to unexpected experiences.”
HOSTING TRAVEL PROGRAMS
Wake County Public Libraries in North Carolina hosted a virtual travel series early in 2023 called Travel Smart that catered to “active travelers and armchair adventurers.” The programming website states, “Travel helps us better understand ourselves and the world around us, as we experience new connections with people and places. The five-program Travel Smart series will help you plan, pack, photograph, fly, and even find travel-related reading material with greater ease.”
Travel Smart kicked off with the Feb. 22 event, An Evening With Rick Steves, of travel guidebook fame. The program is available to view for free on the library’s Vimeo page—and in fact, the library has summaries of each program, as well as the resources mentioned and supplemental resources, listed on the Travel Smart LibGuide. Next came the March 2 Travel Through the Pages program, during which two librarians played tour guide, taking participants “on a whirlwind trip criss-crossing the globe.” They offered recommendations for travel books, podcasts, blogs, virtual tours of museums and historic sites, and more. On March 7, the library held Travel Tips and Packing Smart, featuring Elizabeth Caran, founder and owner of the local Outlander Travel agency. “Confused about the current state of travel? Do you always overpack? Learn travel and packing tips for the post-COVID era travel landscape,” the website advertised. Smartphone Travel Photography was March 15, when local photographer Teresa Porter, owner of My Friend Teresa Studios, shared how to maximize the value of a smartphone as a travel camera and other tips for “never miss[ing] a great shot!” The final event—Ask TSA, on March 29—was a Q&A with Mark Howell, a TSA regional spokesperson, about security screenings and TSA PreCheck. Participants were also promised a “show and tell of some of the interesting items found in luggage screening.”
Heidi Barry-Rodriguez, adult services librarian for Wake County Public Libraries, says the library began doing virtual programming in 2020 (like most libraries did). Since its offerings were met with success, the library has kept the virtual options coming. The full Travel Smart series reached 1,770 attendees—although that number is likely higher, because couples and families tuned in together, and more people have watched the video of Steves since the event. “I suspect we gained new library patrons, which was exciting to me,” Barry-Rodriguez says of the programming’s impact. “It was also great to know that our library community was receiving much-needed travel advice from professionals in their fields. My own satisfaction was helping would-be travelers, many of whom have not traveled for the last three years, with practical information on navigating the saturated and sometimes nutty post-pandemic travel landscape.” Barry-Rodriguez has noticed that travel guidebook checkouts have increased recently, including those by Steves, which have always been popular in both print and digital formats. “During the Rick Steves program, when Steves mentioned a new book title it garnered 38 holds within hours of the program,” she says. Patrons also like to check out novels that are set in the place they plan to visit “to build up anticipation for their trips; that is especially fun reader’s advisory.”
Barry-Rodriguez is already planning more travel programs, including one on European train travel, an interview with a guidebook writer, and a virtual Paris trip with a French lesson included. “I love to travel, and my passion for the subject makes these programs a topic I’d want to revisit over and over; luckily, patrons agree that the topic is a good one and have asked for additional programming,” she notes. Her favorite part of running Travel Smart was getting to work with Steves. She has nothing but praise for his enthusiasm and his (and his staff’s) work ethic. Barry-Rodriguez also enjoyed “the planning aspect and finding practical but fun topics that got colleagues interested and excited to take on a program.”
The LibGuide for the series is a good marketing tool, Barry-Rodriguez says. She loves “stretching the limits of LibGuides by Springshare and how they are traditionally used beyond informational purposes.” They become “a virtual home for all aspects of the upcoming programs” and “a registration place for all programs in the series, and a source for FAQs about the series and how to use Zoom,” she notes. As for specific advice for other libraries that might want to launch a series of this type, “Enjoy having a conversation with your guest presenter; make this engaging for you, your guest, and your audience rather than a dry question-and-answer session. Solicit topic questions from your registrants and use those as the basis of the conversation you have with your guest. Use polls to query attendees (A liquid or solid packing quiz for the TSA attendees was fun and enlightening!). Open up a question session to allow attendees to ask additional questions. Set up an attractive backdrop related to the topic showcasing books or other resources to make the virtual environment inviting to viewers.”
Barry-Rodriguez also suggests asking local experts to present—as she did for Travel Smart—because in her experience, they were happy to share their knowledge, especially since it was virtual. And have fun with the topics—any topic could relate to travel if you get creative. “I am always surprised that most virtual programs have more audience engagement than in-person programs; people love to engage if the librarian fosters the environment, and engagement can take what could be a cold, anonymous digital platform into a community experience,” she says.
“My favorite place to travel is anywhere on a train in Europe, especially new-to-me places where I have to figure out how to travel and navigate the language. If I had to choose more specifically, I’d say northern Italy and the Andalusia region of Spain,” says Barry-Rodriguez. To plan, she uses The Man in Seat 61, a site from train travel expert Mark Smith, and Germany’s Deutsche Bahn train schedule, which helps her make an itinerary—as well as, of course, Steves’ guidebooks, especially Europe Through the Back Door. She shares a favorite vacation memory of “being on a train in December and passing through the Italian lakes district, past Lakes Como and Lugano where the scenery was still green, and then entering the 20-minute-long Gotthard tunnel under the Alps. Twenty minutes later exiting the tunnel, we emerged into the Swiss Alps and a winter wonderland of blowing snow, with a foot of snow on the ground. It was magical arriving in Zurich, where the main train station had a traditional Christmas market complete with a giant tree decorated head to foot with crystal ornaments.”
Barry-Rodriguez likes to visit the libraries of the places she travels, like any librarian would, she says. “One memorable excursion was to the Prague City Library, which has an art installation piece [called Idiom] by Slovak artist Matej Kren. The infinity book tower is made out of thousands of discarded books, and is fitted with interior mirrors so peering in gives the sensation of being surrounded by endless books.” A place of endless books … what a dream travel destination that is. And the library can help people get there—whether they’re actually going to Prague or scratching a travel itch from the comfort of their own home.