Reflections on Bookmobile Service

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By Kevin Walsh
Mobile Services Librarian, Indian Trails Public Library District & Chairperson, National Bookmobile Day  

Bookmobiles provide library service for children, older adults and ethnic communities all of whom either can’t travel to a bricks and mortar library or are unacquainted with the services a library offers. Bookmobiles are over a century old and began in the days of horse drawn carriages and nickelodeon theaters and well before computers, televisions or even home radios. Bookmobiles are the cheapest and easiest expansion a library system can ever make, without the expense or permanence of a building. Finally, bookmobiles can save library patrons gas money and help the environment, especially those Bookmobiles that run on biodiesel or have solar panels to illuminate the cabin or power the computers.

When children first step inside a Bookmobile, they are like the proverbial kids in the candy store, but even more so, because this “candy” is free. Like an ice cream truck or a delivery van, the Bookmobile has traveled to their neighborhood bringing books, DVD’s, CD’s, magazines, and during the summer, special prizes awarded for participation in the summer reading program. 
 
Keely Hall, the Principal Librarian, Bookmobile of the Anaheim Public Library offers these three stories to show how much the Bookmobile means to the children of Anaheim:

“At the Patrick Henry stop there was a family with children that were truly remarkable. As first generation Americans in a traditional Muslim family, the three girls had retained their cultural and religious practices, but had also embraced Western education, politics, and art forms. For eight years these well-mannered girls always came together to the Bookmobile. As they matured, lively, intelligent personalities emerged and it became clear that they wanted to be exposed to the best we had to offer. When they asked for good books they did not mean “entertainment”, but great literature: Tolstoy, Dickens, Bronte. They would ask tough social and political questions and we made a point to bring resources to set them on a discovery path. Once in high school the girls worked on school assignments at the Central Library. The two oldest girls attended University of  California, Irvine and pursued medical degrees. The youngest followed in their footsteps. Whatever small role the Bookmobile may have played in the development of these young women is unknown, but it can be said the rewards coming back to Anaheim are great in that these young women are a shining example of what can be fostered in our community.”


“Also at the Patrick Henry stop, there was a boy who was nine years old when he first came to the Bookmobile. For a long time he just hung out and would occasionally check out a book. He was a difficult kid to get to know, he never volunteered anything about himself except that he DIDN’T like to read. The staff would ask him, 'O.K., no problem, what do you like?' It turned out he liked basketball, so we made it their business to see that he had more information on the NBA, Michael Jordan, and world of basketball than most sports writers. Before long this boy would arrive at the Bookmobile expecting to have books waiting for him. 'What do you have for me today?' he would ask as he walked in. Every week he would faithfully show up at the bookmobile ready to pick up more books and finally, he began to request books. At 14 this child, then a teen, would bring his 2-year-old brother to the Bookmobile and he would go to the shelves, pull some books, and start to read to his little brother. Eventually, this teen started coming to the Central Library and he would bring his mom, his brother, and sometimes his cousins. The boy who didn’t like to read eventually attended Fullerton College, is a regular library user, and truly loves to read.”


“At the Tara Hills stop there were two girls that were transplanted to Anaheim from Ceausescu’s Romania. Our bookmobile staff played a role in helping them sort out the labyrinth of American society. They kept them focused on the importance of school work when many of their classmates were headed in other directions. The girls asked staff for advice and recommendations not only in dealing with school problems but also social situations. They were good kids that dealt with change, a new culture, and the pressure of living in a tough neighborhood. The parents of these children worked hard to secure a better life for the family. The mother worked cleaning houses and the father was employed as a machinist. Eventually the family was able to move away from Tara Hills into their first home and the kids would show up at the Central Library to let staff know that they were doing well and were happy.”

These enchanting anecdotes are part of the daily Bookmobile experience of Keely Hall, the Principal Bookmobile Librarian of the Anaheim Public Library.

In 1926 my grandmother, Annie O’Connor left the family home in the small town of Carndonagh, county Donegal in Ireland to immigrate to New York City. Lacking any professional training, she worked in child care in Brooklyn and Staten Island. When I first applied for library school she told me stories about some of the little children she was taking care who used to love to visit the Bookmobile when it came through the neighborhood in the afternoon, even in rain or snow. She remembered the books on the Bookmobile like Little Women, Raggedy Ann and the Little Grey Rabbit series, plus a lot of “scientific” books. Hemingway and Fitzgerald, the two most popular American authors at the time, were also well represented. The children, she remembered, always regarded books with “high seriousness” and were ever so “careful and respectful” when turning the pages, so that they might not lose their library privileges, in case mean Mr. Fleming took a disliking to them and denied their library privileges.

My grandmother, always an avid reader herself, took especial pride in her grandson, the librarian, bringing books to those who wanted them but who couldn’t always reach them.

 

For information on the first annual National Bookmobile Day, April 14th, please visit www.ala.org/bookmobiles

 

 

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