Yes, Bookmobiles Are Still a Thing.

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From The Pew Charitable Trusts:

The van comes to a stop just as it reaches the hens. A bleating lamb is the first to greet Sandra Hennessee as she opens the van door and lets in the midday sun.

To get here, on an Amish farm in rural western Kentucky, Hennessee headed west from the small town of Mayfield and drove for miles on a two-lane road, passing churches, farms and open fields. With every bend and bump in the road, the wooden shelves inside the 27-year-old van creaked. With every stop, the hundreds of plastic-wrapped and paperback books on the shelves shifted.

Now on the farm, a woman dressed in a floor-length blue skirt, a black jacket, boots and a bonnet climbs inside. “Hi, honey,” Hennessee says. “What can I help you find?”

As the Graves County Public Library bookmobile librarian, Hennessee says she serves some of the most isolated areas of her community. She delivers books to some of the loneliest widows and some of the poorest children, but, according to her, “it’s not really about the books.”

“I’m a trash taker-outer, I’m a mail-getter, I’m a mechanic, I’m a social worker, I’m a snake killer,” she said. “You do what needs doin.’”

Hennessee, 51, started doing this job in 1995, when bookmobiles — miniature, mobile libraries in the backs of walk-on vans — were in their heyday. At the time, there were nearly 1,000 operating across the United States. Now, there are fewer than 650, according to the most recent data from the Institute of Museum and Library Services, a grantmaking and research arm of the federal government.

Link to the rest at The Pew Charitable Trusts

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Wikimedia Commons


Wikimedia Commons

12 thoughts on “Yes, Bookmobiles Are Still a Thing.”

  1. Just add a small computer/laptop and a wireless access point to download/side-load ebooks to devices and they’d be good for another fifty years. 😉

    • Actually, in our rural library system, we’ve provided a wireless access point at our bookmobile for at least 5 years.

      We recently replaced our ancient and increasingly unreliable bookmobile with a new model. Initially, I, as a trustee, was opposed. Bookmobiles are expensive– they are custom-built and cost in the $200-300K range. That seemed steep. We have been putting in what we call “express libraries”, unstaffed cubbyholes with extended hours where patrons can pick up holds and select from tiny browsing collections, and I thought that expresses were an efficient alternative to an expensive piece of manned equipment with substantial ongoing maintenance costs. (Actually not exactly cheap if you have build an ADA compliant, low maintenance structure for the express, but that is another analysis.)

      I am, on the odd occasion, conscientious. I did some due diligence, talking to bookmobile users and reviewing the numbers.

      First, people love bookmobiles. One patron told me his family used to travel from another county just to use our bookmobile. I talked to a number of people who told me how much they loved the bookmobile. I have to admit that I got my first library card (from the library system of which I am now a trustee) at a bookmobile more than 60 years ago, so I am sentimental myself.

      Sentiments are significant, but they don’t pay bills. When I started looking at the numbers, our bookmobile circulated more books with fewer staff hours than most of our brick and mortar branches. At that point, I flipped and urged the rest of the board to purchase the new truck.

      • What I meant was for those out in the sticks without (or with poor) internet access, it might be hard to use that kindle someone thought would make a nice birthday present. Legally there shouldn’t be a problem so long as ‘whose got what when’ is logged/kept up with (never mind the tons of free reading from sites that can be copied and shared without issue.)

      • >our bookmobile circulated more books with fewer staff hours than most of our brick and mortar branches

        No kidding?! That’s amazing. I guess that area has a huge “rural route” population?

        • I doubt that we are exceptional.

          We have branches of varying sizes. Our largest branches each circulate in the neighborhood of 50,000 physical books a month. Our smaller branches circulate a few thousand a month. The bookmobile clocks in as a medium branch at six to seven thousand a month. Digital circulation is around 20,000 a month. Our total circulation, physical and digital, for 2018 was a bit over 2 million.

          Our county population is about 225,000, although the largest town (80,000) in the county has its own library system, so we serve about 145,000, although it’s a little hazy because county folk sometimes check out from the city and city folk sometimes check out from the county system.

          My guess is that since the bookmobile is only open for a few hours at each stop per week, the usage is concentrated, which explains the staff hour efficiency.

      • The bookmobile is very much an intimate neighborhood experience. If you’re waiting in line or you’re inside, you almost can’t help but talk to other people.

        Typically, those other people are readers, too, and/or the parents of children who are encouraged to read, so it’s not the same as the line at the local grocery store.

        If you use the bookmobile regularly, you are likely to be on a first-name basis with the librarian as well and she (the majority of public librarians are female) can suggest books you might like and bring them in the bookmobile the next time she arrives.

  2. I’ve got to say the “lady-mobile” bookstore really caught my eye. It’s so easy to forget what tbe 30’s were like.

    Also, to paraphrase Michael Crichton: “Humans will find a way.”

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