Around the Nation
7:06 pm
Sat March 31, 2012

Vermont Town Struggles To Keep Bookmobiles Alive

Originally published on Fri May 11, 2012 7:33 pm

Across America, libraries used to reach out to readers by sending bookmobiles into school parking lots, street corners and rural byways. Now, those rolling reading rooms are becoming scarce — too costly and outmoded, some say.

One town in northern New England just lost its bookmobile. The Cobleigh Public Library in Lyndonville, Vt., had managed to keep its van rolling until about a month ago, when it died.

If you want to hear first-hand what it's like to go through a whole month without a single visit from the bookmobile, just ask the preschoolers at Stay and Play, a daycare center.

"We miss the bookmobile," one child says. "Yeah, we miss the bookmobile until it comes here," says another.

Now that the bookmobile has broken down, librarians have to bring books in their own cars for story hour. Daycare provider Anneka Bickford says it's not as thrilling as having a big, brightly painted vehicle roll into the driveway and open the doors so the kids can browse and choose their own books.

"It's getting the children involved with what a library is, how to check out books [and] how to return books," Bickford says. "They would do programs with the children; singing, dancing, themes — so it's the excitement of the library that we can't give to the children."

It's not the first bookmobile to bite the dust. Over the years, Vermont's large fleet has dwindled to three or four. Lyndonville's head librarian, Cindy Karasinski, says replacement costs have skyrocketed.

"The first bookmobile was out of the dump, it was a plumber's van out of the dump," Karasinski says. New bookmobiles are expensive; just one of them cost $90,000, she says, "so that seems not the way we are going to go."

Sadly, Karasinksi says, the kind of grants that used to fund bookmobiles have all but dried up.

Yet there was a time when rolling libraries were all the rage, says 92-year-old Eleanor Simons, who drove one around back in the 1940s. They were even a little scandalous for single librarians, Simons says. Her great aunt called it "intimate."

"Well, the idea of riding around all day with a strange man, that's what she thought was intimate, of course," Simons says.

For Simons, it was a dream job. She hopes the Cobleigh bookmobile gets a second chance. Not everyone does. Some in town feel the bookmobile has served its purpose and become a financial burden instead of an asset.

Karasinski says the final decision will be made by the library board — with citizen input.

Copyright 2012 Vermont Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.vpr.net.

Transcript

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

There was a time when libraries would reach out to readers by sending bookmobiles to school parking lots, city street corners and rural byways. Now, those rolling reading rooms are becoming scarce - too costly and outmoded, some say. But one town in northern New England is struggling to keep its bookmobile on the road. Charlotte Albright of Vermont Public Radio has the story.

CHARLOTTE ALBRIGHT, BYLINE: If you want to hear first-hand what it's like to go through a whole month without a single visit from the bookmobile, just ask the preschoolers at Stay and Play, a day care center in Lyndonville, Vermont.

UNIDENTIFIED CHILD #1: 'Cause we miss the bookmobile.

UNIDENTIFIED CHILD #2: Yeah, we miss the bookmobile until it comes here. I miss it a lot more.

UNIDENTIFIED CHILD #1: I miss it a lot more.

ALBRIGHT: Now that the bookmobile has broken down, librarians have to bring books in their own cars for story hour. Day care provider Anneka Bickford says that's not as thrilling as having a big brightly painted vehicle roll into the driveway and open its doors wide so kids can browse and choose their own books.

ANNEKA BICKFORD: It's getting the children involved with what a library is, how to check out books, how to return books. They would do programs with the children, singing, dancing, themes. So, it's the excitement of the library that we can't give to the children.

ALBRIGHT: It's not the first bookmobile to bite the dust. In fact, over the years Vermont's large fleet has dwindled to three or four. Lyndonville's Head Librarian, Cindy Karasinski, says replacement costs have skyrocketed.

CINDY KARASINSKI: The first bookmobile was out of the dump. New bookmobiles, when this was new, it was over $90,000. So, I mean, that seems not be not the way we're going to go.

ALBRIGHT: Sadly, Karasinski says, the kind of grants that used to fund bookmobiles have all but dried up. But one Vermont librarian remembers when rolling libraries were all the rage, even a little scandalous, for single librarians. Ninety-two-year-old Eleanor Simons drove one around back in the '40s. Her great aunt had something to say about that.

ELEANOR SIMONS: Intimate, isn't it? Well, the idea of riding around all day with a strange man, that's what she thought was intimate, of course.

ALBRIGHT: But for Simons it was a dream job. She hopes Lyndonville puts a bookmobile back on the road. For NPR News, I'm Charlotte Albright, in Lyndonville, Vermont.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

MARTIN: This is NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright National Public Radio.