Visits to the Dream Bus are different in the time of COVID-19, but the joy the bright purple bus brings to five Madison neighborhoods is still the same.

“The kids in these neighborhoods know (about the Dream Bus) by now, and they are the best at spreading the word,” said Jacqueline Stevens, Dane County Library Clerk and one of the Dream Bus drivers. “People peek in, and when they see the collection, they get really excited and keep coming back.”

In its second year of operation, the Dream Bus is a partnership between Madison Public Library and Dane County Library Service. Funded in part with gifts secured by Madison Public Library Foundation, it brings a library collection to Madison’s peripheral neighborhoods that lack easy access to a physical library.

Over the summer, Dane County Library Service Director Tracy Herold coordinated the Dream Bus schedule to align with Madison Metropolitan School District’s free lunch pickup sites in the five neighborhoods usually on its route. The bus is too small to allow for safe social distancing, so Dream Bus drivers Stevens and Ricardo Marroquin — assisted by a rotating crew of Madison Public Library librarians — distributed library materials to kids from a table outside. Several of the Dream Bus sites also coincided with Madison School Community Recreation (MSCR) day camps where classes, including teachers, took turns coming out at Lake View, Sandburg, and Lincoln elementary schools to get books.

All of the books are checked out to a special COVID-19 card for barrier-free lending. Kids and families can bring materials back to the Dream Bus anytime, and it’s OK if they forget; they can still get more books the next week.

Madison Public Library supplemented the Dream Bus collection with summer giveaway books from its One Book at a Time community grant. Books were packaged in brightly colored bags provided by Madison Public Library Foundation and Steve Stricker American Family Insurance Foundation as part of the We Read/Leemos summer reading program. Each bag also contained a craft contributed by Dane County Library Services Outreach Librarian Mary Driscoll.

“Whoa! Dad, look at this!” one little boy at Badger Rock Neighborhood Center exclaimed as he reached in his bag and pulled out Smile, a graphic novel, by Raina Telgemeier. “I couldn’t even get this at school — the list was too long!”