Libraries on the Go: The Relevance of Bookmobiles in the Modern World

Library Resources | November 19, 2018

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Bicycle, wagon, donkey cart, camel, motorbike, boat, helicopter, train and van -- what do these have in common? These are all ways in which library services have been or are currently delivered to patrons. Today, the van is the most common and is known as the “bookmobile.”

Bookmobiles have been in use in the United States since 1905.. Per a 2018 article by the Pew Charitable Trusts, there were nearly 1,000 bookmobiles operating in 1995, while today there are fewer than 650. While the number of bookmobiles is declining, interest is increasing as libraries look for alternative methods to reach patrons and prove their worth. The bookmobile also mimics the “online shopping” trend, which customers are familiar with, and meeting current expectations of goods and services being delivered to their doors. Bookmobiles are not just for delivering books; they provide mobile programming, and most importantly, access to technology.

According to Public Libraries Online, rural and impoverished communities; the primary recipients of mobile library services, often lack technology or it may be very outdated/poor quality. Bookmobiles offer wi-fi, laptops, iPads, and other hardware and software to patrons in these communities who might otherwise have no other avenue to receive them. Recently, Patti, the BPL’s (Billings, MT) Bookmobile Librarian, shared a story of how a child, who had recently received a robot for his birthday, used the bookmobile’s laptop computer to update the robot’s software because the computer he had at home was unable to support the robot’s software.

Recently, Patti, the BPL’s (Billings, MT) Bookmobile Librarian, shared a story of how a child, who had recently received a robot for his birthday, used the bookmobile’s laptop computer to update the robot’s software because the computer he had at home was unable to support the robot’s software. (Quote found here.)

 

From Texas to Kentucky: Two Bookmobile Programs

Texas’ Lake Travis Community Library mobile library program was highlighted by the Texas State Library & Archives Commission in April 2018 (on National Bookmobile Day - April 11th). The library is new to the bookmobile world, having purchased theirs in 2016. They cover just over 100 square miles and serve neighborhoods, RV parks, food pantries, preschools, and assisted living facilities. They saw immediate results within the first year, as they circulated nearly 20,000 items from the bookmobile and served over 10,000 patrons. The library has also seen an increase in “traditional” library circulation and patronage, which may be due, in part, to the bookmobile’s advertising to promote the brick and mortar institution.

In contrast to the newer program in Lake Travis, Kentucky’s Graves County Public Library has been in the bookmobile business for over 20 years. Graves County is approximately 550 square miles and its bookmobile makes stops at places like Lake Travis, and Amish farms. According to Pew, about a quarter of the library books that get checked out in the county are from the bookmobile. Sandra Hennessee, Graves’ Bookmobile Librarian, reiterates that as access to high-speed internet becomes increasingly essential, she connects residents in remote areas to broadband through the bookmobile’s hotspot.

Lake Travis received grants from state agencies and donations from local charitable organizations to get the bookmobile up and running. The Graves County program receives most of its funding from local sources. The ALA's Bookmobiles LibGuide provides a wealth of information for libraries interested in pursuing a mobile library program.

Engaging Digital Magazines for Mobile Library Services

Flipster offers many digital magazines that are valuable to the mobile librarian and patrons. AudioFile and Horn Book Magazine can inform collection development for the bookmobile, while Library Journal provides professional development, information, and support. A mobile library that has wi-fi and iPads or other mobile devices can introduce patrons to all of the library’s digital resources, including popular magazines only found on Flipster, such as TIME, People, and Sports Illustrated. Visit Flipster.com to see a full list of titles offered.

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