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The Sunflower

Wichita State's independent, student-run news source

The Sunflower

Wichita State's independent, student-run news source

The Sunflower

Wichita State alum infuses love for reading in ‘Book Bus’ work

Mia Hennen
Racine Zackula, family literacy coordinator for the Wichita Public Library, organizes books on the Book Bus. The Book Bus is a library on wheels that bring various books to different communities or individuals in Wichita. ” I love our mission,” Zackula said about the WPL. “We are to be out in the world and connecting with others where they’re at — and that’s what it’s all about.”

Racine Zackula had a lot of ideas about her future career before she landed on being a librarian; she wanted to be a French horn professor, a DJ, a French professor — she even dabbled in being a nanny for a year. 

Now, she’s a librarian, but not your typical one. She’s got green-blue hair, funky glasses and outfits to match her whimsical personality. About the only thing that gives her librarian identity away is a small “Shhh” tattoo on the side of her index finger.

“It’s so funny that I am a librarian because I’m not meek; I’m not mild-mannered,” Zackula said. “I want to be out with people. I love people.”

Jaime Nix, director of libraries for the WPL, attested to Zackula’s character.

“She’s our single extrovert on staff,” Nix said. 

Zackula, a Wichita native, started her journey working with libraries while at Wichita State. There, she obtained her bachelor’s degree before receiving a master’s in library science at Emporia State.

“All the time that I was (going to) WSU pretty much, I was working at Wichita Public Library as a part-timer,” Zackula said. “It was funny because my friends (were like), ‘You work in a library?’ And it’s like, ‘Yes, I’ve gotten written up for being too noisy in the library.’”

Throughout her career, Zackula has worked in various roles within libraries. 

“I am the Swiss Army knife of librarians,” she said. “All of the things that a librarian can do, I’ve done.”

Now, Zackula is the family literacy coordinator for the Wichita Public Library — a title that took her a “long time” to memorize. 

“I wanted to be called the reading auntie, but I guess that isn’t an official title for a librarian,” she said. 

In her role, Zackula drives the Wichita Public Library’s Book Bus, which brings books and resources to community members who may be unable to make it to a still-standing library. The outreach initiative was rolled out in November 2023, and Zackula has been driving the colorful, refurbished city bus since. 

Children are a big target audience for the library’s bus, and Zackula aims to find unique ways to encourage them to read, especially through outfits and props.

“I know it’s squirrely for a 55-year-old woman to wander around with a bubble gun and Pete the Cat (ears) and puppets, but I want the kids to have fun.” 

The librarian’s personal aim is to “convince, cajole and con” people into reading.

“We want to get people jazzed,” Zackula said. “I’ve just been out here finding the places where I need to be to connect with others.” 

Zackula said the bus is a part of the library’s larger mission to connect and meet the community

“Wichita Public Library is coming into its rockstar era,” Zackula said. “We’re doing so many things to connect people with other people and to encourage learning and lifelong learning and to encourage community.”

On the bus, individuals can register for a library card, return materials, use free Wi-Fi and check out from a small collection of books. The librarian noted that the library will “always take donations of books in good shape.”

A sign, saying “Are you hungry? Ask me for something!” hangs in the Wichita Public Library’s Book Bus. Zackula keeps snacks on the bus. “I want there to be something available for people who are in need,” Zackula said. (Mia Hennen)

Zackula also finds other ways to support the community while she’s out on the bus. She’s taken a first aid course, brings snacks on the bus, and carries naloxone and other materials to safely dispose of drugs or drug paraphernalia that she may encounter while driving.

“It’s a matter of meeting people where they’re at,” Zackula said.

When Zackula isn’t driving the Book Bus, she’s planning where to take it next. People can also request the bus for community events on the library’s website.

Currently, Zackula is the sole Book Bus driver, but the library has plans to bring on other drivers and create more book buses. Nix said the library is interested in obtaining electric vehicles in the hopes of being more sustainable.

Nix said the next iteration of the bus will be about home delivery, something they plan to pilot next month. 

“(The Book Bus) really did change the landscape of how we think about service,” Nix said. “If you talked with Racine, you know how enthusiastic she is about getting people excited to read. That’s just the funnest part about this job.”

Racine Zackula, family literacy coordinator for the Wichita Public Library, poses with the Wichita Public Library’s Book Bus while creating bubbles with a handheld toy. If she’s not on the road, Zackula spends much of her time planning where to take the Book Bus next. (Mia Hennen)
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About the Contributor
Mia Hennen, Editor in Chief
Mia Hennen is the current editor in chief for The Sunflower. Before becoming editor, Hennen was the news/managing editor. They are a junior at Wichita State majoring in English and minoring in communications and Spanish, hoping to pursue any career involving writing or editing.

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