Last year, I had the privilege of spending the day on our System’s Bookmobile. It was awesome, especially for a cataloger who spends her entire day behind a computer screen having more interaction with virtual people than with real ones. Shortly after my day on wheels, I wrote to a friend about it describing the day in detail. Unfortunately, neither one of us saved our emails. So some of the details are foggy at this point, but the experience as a whole remains clear in my mind.
First, as you can probably guess from the title of this post, Ed, Becky, and Laura comprise our Bookmobile/Special Services team here at LSLC. They are a dedicated crew and do some fantastic outreach. Ed is the man in charge, and he is also “The Bookmobile Guy”, which you can follow on Facebook. In addition to serving rural and Amish populations and low and moderate-income neighborhoods, the Bookmobile stops at various preschools, Headstarts, assisted care facilities for both the elderly and the disabled, and more. The team also provides outreach to the Lancaster County Youth Intervention Center (Laura has a terrific blog, What’s Up With the Library?), the prison, and more.
My day with Becky behind the wheel included stops at a preschool, two assisted care facilities, and one stop right in the heart of Amish country. I remember that the day itself was a gorgeous one, and it felt glorious being out on the road and on the go. The day was also a busy one, and every stop was challenging in that the time is limited, and the check-in and check-outs come fast and furious. But there was also time to stop and enjoy the outbursts from the excited preschool kids (the kind of remarks that only little children can get away with making) as they listened to story time provided with full effect by Becky; the familiarity with which the senior citizens boarded the vehicle and began looking for books and conversing with Becky; the uninhibited affection of the residents of the assisted care facility for the disabled; and the exuberance of the Amish children bounding aboard the vehicle with boxes and bags of books to return in order to replenish their stashes. Many of these stops are made only once a month or so (I believe. I’m sure Ed will correct me if I’m wrong!), and the one common thread that ran through every stop was the evident excitement and anticipation of these particular users. I was exhausted but exhilarated at the end of the day.
What’s most interesting to me is that in this age of digital madness, one of the things that all of our member libraries agreed upon during our strategic planning process was that more, not less, of the Bookmobile is desirable–more stops, more frequency, just more. “Expanding Bookmobile Services” is even one of the strategic priorities that made it into our Plan (See “E” under rethink and restructure). So, in this age of the internet and digital content, the internet and ebooks are still not always everything to everyone. And it doesn’t replace outreach, especially to those without internet access or without digital devices/computers.
Which brings up an interesting point. If there ever comes a time when all things digital replace all things print, well, there is still a place for the Bookmobile. Recently, the Overdrive Digital Bookmobile paid a visit to Lancaster County. I stopped by Park City in September to take a tour. Now, this Bookmobile is used as a marketing/educational tool to promote the use of OverDrive ebooks; however, I see potential here…
Wouldn’t it be cool if the System Bookmobile could be replaced by a bigger and better vehicle, which included a download station and a digital lounge where users could either download ebooks to their own devices (not so likely considering the populations that are served) or explore and learn about digital content while on the Bookmobile using iPads, Kindles, other e-readers and computers to simply play with technology that may be new to them? The System Bookmobile could quite easily become a digital bookmobile, too, if necessary, helping to bridge the digital divide while still providing traditional materials and services to residents of Lancaster County.
Of course, dreams take money, as does reality. And the reality is that the Bookmobile could probably stand to be replaced now. It is often in a state of disrepair, which is not surprising considering its age and how hard it gets used. But new bookmobiles are expensive, even ones that do not house digital lounges or download stations. So it will be challenging to see how we can work to expand Bookmobile Services with limited funds and a vehicle that is winding down.
Ed has graciously allowed me continuing contact with the Bookmobile by shooting reference questions my way, occasionally. Ed knows I have a soft spot for reference, and since the time of these professionals is limited while on the road, sometimes Ed will send me a question via chat. Fortunately, since there is a gap in time before returning to that stop, I often have time to find an answer. I’m sure the team answers many more questions themselves, but it’s fun for me to play a role occasionally.
So, in my view, Ed, Becky, and Laura have an excellent adventure every day on the Library System of Lancaster County’s Bookmobile. They may have a different (and better informed) vision for the future of Bookmobile services in Lancaster County. As long as they’re at the helm, I am certain those services will be outstanding.