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Director's Column

PLSJC Director Alan Hall writes a weekly column discussing library and community news, history, and other interesting subjects.

The New Bookmobile

By Alan Hall, Director, PLSJ
Publish Date - Sunday, November 27, 2011

I recently visited the library’s new Bookmobile, under construction in a factory in Columbus.


For the past year, the library system has been without Bookmobile service as our previous vehicle ended its life in a puff of smoke on Route 7 a year ago.


Bookmobile service started in Jefferson County in 1940 with the purchase of a panel truck that delivered books around the county.


A new vehicle was purchased every decade or so to provide library service to county schools and community stops in areas not served by one of the library locations.


In 2009, we ended Bookmobile service to schools as part of the plan to address the state budget cut to libraries.  School libraries have improved over the years, and the number of schools using the service had declined.


The previous vehicle, which had been purchased “used” from the State of Ohio, was in its last days of service when the engine malfunctioned.


There are only three bookmobile manufacturers in the U.S., two of which operate in Ohio.  Earlier this year, we developed specifications for a smaller vehicle and sent the project out-to-bid.


Farber Specialty Vehicles, Inc. of Columbus was the successful bidder for a new bookmobile constructed on a Sprinter chassis.  We expect delivery of the completed vehicle in December.


During my recent visit, I was pleased to meet the two Steubenville natives who work for Farber, and are excited to be part of the production of the new vehicle.


I have visited the vehicle in production to check construction work, and to work out any problems in the manufacturing process, and am pleased to see it nearly done and ready to serve the residents of Jefferson County.


The new service will begin in January, and will involve library deliveries to Preschool and Early Childhood Centers, senior residential facilities, nursing homes, and 14 county communities.


The new vehicle will operate on Thursdays and Fridays every week.


The new vehicle has 15 one-sided carts that latch in place and can be transported to facilities to house books being left at that location.


A rear lift unit will allow the carts to be loaded, and will allow people to board without using the steps.


The Bookmobile will operate in conjunction with the automated computer network, allowing customers to place requests online for pick-up on the vehicle on delivery day.


Libraries have been operating bookmobiles for many years, but budget cuts have eliminated the service in many parts of Ohio.  Martins Ferry Public Library is the only other neighboring library system that operates bookmobile service. 


I think it is an important service for folks who otherwise wouldn’t have library access, and I am pleased that our new vehicle will arrive soon.


The Washington County Library in Hagerstown, Md. Is generally credited with the first bookmobile, operated in 1904 and called a “book wagon.”


Their horse-drawn wagon was replaced in 1923 by a motorized vehicle.  Workers in the iron ore ranges of Minnesota and Michigan were provided bookmobile service, with some vehicles called a “Bibliobus.”


Ohio had 27 bookmobiles on the road by 1940, with Canton and Alliance leading the way.  Belmont County converted a 1938 Chevrolet sedan into a “book car” before manufacturers started production of a truck chassis.


Today’s bookmobiles complement computer technology with online systems and laptop computers, and interaction with online catalogs and databases.


We’ll let you know when the new vehicle is delivered, and we are ready-to-go with the service.