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January 9, 2008 > Bookmobile: hot wheels of information

Bookmobile: hot wheels of information

By Sargun Kaur
Photos By Sargun Kaur and Sharon Marshak

The 21st century has become a global community of rich culture, history, and tales bound in countless books and media forms. Community libraries have become bridges to these worlds of information. Mary Titcomb, the first librarian of Washington County, Maryland had a mission to stretch these bridges even further - to remote homes across rural areas, inaccessible to traditional stationary brick and mortar libraries. In 1905, she set off with nothing more than a pedal-powered laundry wagon, the first "bookmobile," loaded with a collection of attractive books. "The book goes to the man, not waiting for the man to come to the book," Titcomb stated. Her mission traveled a long way, and now bookmobiles are found around the world as part of many library systems, not only utilizing vans and buses, but also boats and even camels and donkeys.

Present day Bookmobiles of Alameda County Library and the Santa Clara County Library carry a diverse selection of nonfiction, fiction, magazines, music CDs, CD-ROMs, VHS videos, DVDs, and books on cassette and CD. A frequent visitor to the Bookmobile, Talalelei Vaiaoga, 11, mentioned that his favorite part is the wide selection of DVDs. The Bookmobile operates as a mini-library with its own budget and selection of library material hand-picked by the Bookmobile librarian staff. "Our biggest customers are children, but we have a variety of books for all ages," said Library Branch Manager Don Nunes.

The Bookmobile carries a wide assortment of titles for children, teens, adults, and seniors alike. "We have a wider collection of juvenile books just because we visit schools. When visiting senior centers, I usually pull out some extra books like large print," said Penny Pridemore, a librarian assistant working in the Alameda Bookmobile. The Alameda Bookmobile also appeals to a range of languages with an array of books and movies in Spanish, Hindi, and Farsi.

Those using the Bookmobile have access to the same database as any other county library. Therefore, library items borrowed from the Bookmobile can be returned to the Bookmobile or any other library in that county's system. "Materials requested at the Bookmobile can be picked up at their stop. It works on the same system as any other library in the county," said Melanie McInerey, librarian at the Milpitas Library, referring to two Santa Clara County Bookmobiles. A Bookmobile clerk can also issue a standard library card for use throughout the entire county system during a bookmobile visit.

Alameda County started its first Bookmobile services in 1949 with a driver who also served as a circulation clerk and a library assistant that helped customers find and return books. Beginning service with two Bookmobiles, service was subsequently reduced to one vehicle and has remained at this level ever since. Even in a highly mobile and internet society, there are many who rely on bookmobile services for contact with the library system. "The Bookmobile covers many unincorporated areas, apartment complexes, schools, and senior centers," stated Angela Yang, Fremont Main Library Branch Manager. Space and financial requirements limit disability access to the current Bookmobile.

The Alameda Bookmobile makes its stops once every two weeks for approximately 35-45 minutes in Fremont, Newark, Union City, Sunol, and other areas around the county. Morning stops include pre-schools and private day care facilities where the Bookmobile hosts a program called "Hot Wheels" for the younger kids. "It depends on how the school wants to do it, but the kids are provided with a storytime by the librarian and then are free to check out books," said Pridemore.

Bookmobile is very similar to any other library; its primary difference is wheels. Carrying over 5,000 library materials and an annual issue rate of more than 100,000 books and materials, the Bookmobile is certainly an appreciated and used asset. "We see whole families come in with kids, parents, and grandparents who are frequent visitors and then we watch the kids grow up and bring their kids. So it's like a big family here," stated Tom Evans, the Alameda Bookmobile driver and clerk.

Bookmobile contact information and local schedules may be found in each issue of Tri-City Voice. For a complete schedule and more information, visit:
Alameda County: or call (510) 745-1477; for Hot Wheels (510) 745-1478
Santa Clara County: or call (408) 293-2326 ext. 3060

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