Wednesday, April 11, is National Bookmobile Day! Help us celebrate this roving resource by visiting the bookmobile and thanking our hardworking bookmobile staff, sending an email to the library, or voicing your support to community leaders.
Today's bookmobile has come a long way from the first one, which was introduced by Washington County, Maryland librarian Mary Titcomb and hit the road in 1905. The horse-drawn book wagon was "filled with an attractive collection of books and drawn by two horses, with Mr. Thomas the janitor both holding the reins and dispensing the books."
Not everyone was happy to see this newfangled method of book delivery. The plain and dignified design led one farmer to call out, "Yer needn't stop here. We ain't got no use for the dead wagon here." The wheels and doors were then painted red to avoid further misidentification.
This bookmobile prototype came to a tragic end when it was smashed to bits by a freight train; miraculously, Mr. Thomas and the horses all escaped injury.
Today's bookmobile can carry thousands of items, have room to roam, tabletops to work on, a kitchen, bathroom and a lift for disabled patrons to gain access.
Denver Public Library's two Reading Rocket bookmobiles are staffed by Senior Circulation Clerks, trained to drive these 28' vehicles. Generously funded by Janus Capital Group in support of a DPL partnership with Denver Public Schools, the Reading Rockets regularly visit 25 schools and 18 senior living centers located throughout Denver.
Piloted by Clif and Ken, Reading Rocket 1 serves DPS elementary schools, with the collection geared toward Early Childhood Education through third grade. Ken and Clif alternate driving every day, and are responsible for gassing up (it holds about 20 gallons of diesel and gets around 10 mpg). Drivers must also keep it clean. "At the fleet fuel stations they have a giant carwash for garbage trucks, street sweepers and what-have-you that we use," Clif says. Inclement weather can be a challenge. Ken comments, "It is a bit of trouble in the snow. If the snow is just wet, we're fine. If it gets icy, it is prone to sliding worse than a normal car."
The most challenging part of bookmobile operation? Technology, says Clif. "Our computer problems are the worst part. Connecting remotely often poses us with many problems that leave the patrons very inconvenienced. The kind of computer issues that would shut a branch down, we regularly have to work through, and it can get very frustrating."
The best part of the job, according to Ken, is, "all the excited kids coming out to the bookmobile to get books and movies."
Reading Rocket 2 has materials for all ages and visits four elementary schools, the Florence Crittenton School and 18 senior living centers throughout the city. It has a browsing collection of about 4800 books and movies.
Veteran driver Lynn notes that every day is like a day trip, and can be challenging when the heating or air conditioning isn't working. It's all worth it, though, when they stop at one of her favorite sites, Courthouse Square. "Even though it's close to Central, a lot of these people just don't get out. Many have come a long way from life challenges such as homelessness."
"If I could change one thing, I would have a bookmobile that never had mechanical problems," says Melanie, who's been a driver for about three years. "Right now, the generator on our bookmobile is not working and fleet maintenance can't figure out why. The vehicle can travel, but without the generator to power computers and lights, we're not able to go out. If we could convert to a solar-powered electrical system, or even one where we could pedal something for a few minutes to power the computers, I'd be thrilled."
Melanie comments on the most enjoyable part of the job: "The best part of working the bookmobile is being able to bring materials to people who otherwise wouldn't be able to get to a library. The seniors and kids who really need the Reading Rocket are so appreciative of the service we bring to them. If it's a beautiful day out, that only adds to the experience of bringing the library to our customers."
If you'd like to see historical photos of bookmobiles in Colorado, visit the Denver Public Library's Digital Collections page.
Bookmobiles aren't always motorized - books are also delivered by the "biblioburro" in Colombia and by camel in Kenya: