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She's a Youthful 75 and Drives 680 Miles a Month

            She’s a youthful 75. She lets kids climb all over her, and she owns the latest in books, movies and music.  She also puts in about 680 miles a month driving around Greene County.

            When you’re a bookmobile, you can do that.

This year marks 75 years that the “Greene County Library” began delivering books to rural stretches of the county.  

Her name says it all. The “Mobile Library” travels every week to 25 neighborhoods and apartments throughout Springfield and Greene County, from Turners Station to Walnut Grove. Shelves are packed with some 2,500 books, DVDs and CDs for all ages, and other items such as lending toys, Adventure Backpacks and STEM Kits by request through the library.org/catalog. Visitors check out over 3,000 items per month, and can register to vote there.

The Mobile Library was a $225,000 gift in 2011 from the Friends of the Library (your book sale dollars at work!), the Library Foundation and several other sponsors. It’s a far cry from the lumbering bookmobiles in the past.

While a “sample truck” was sent out in 1946 to introduce the service at club meetings and schools, the Greene County Library established the first actual service in 1948, and it only made stops outside the city limits. Over the years, service to rural and city sites fluctuated with changing populations and additional bookmobiles.  

Library archives tell a more detailed story: The bookmobile’s first headquarters were in the basement of the Greene County Courthouse, and only patrons outside of the city were served. Four years later, cooperation between the Greene County Library and the Springfield Public Library led to in-city bookmobile service which included regular stops at the public schools. In 1961-62 a new headquarters was built behind the Springfield Main Library.

With the addition of a second bookmobile in 1967, rural bookmobile service was expanded. County schools were visited more frequently, while service to Springfield schools was reduced to only those with the largest rural attendance. In 1976 service to all schools was discontinued, community stops were greatly increased, and the emphasis was placed on afternoon and evening stops.

In 1963 and 1967 the library purchased Gerstenslager Bookmobiles. The 1963 vehicle had a gasoline powered generator, and electricity for the 1967 unit was provided by a propane fueled generator mounted at the rear of the truck.

After traveling over 177,000 miles, the 1963 Bookmobile was permanently placed at the Parkcrest Shopping Center in October 1977, functioning as the Parkcrest Mini-Branch Library.

The 1967 unit was repainted in 1976. It had a row of windows around the top to improve the visibility during daylight hours.

The bookmobiles were each stocked with nearly 3,000 items, emphasizing high-interest, popular fiction and non-fiction materials. Every two months, the collections on the two units were switched to allow a variety for the patrons.

Newer bookmobiles followed until the 1991 model with 20 years on her was replaced by the existing Mobile Library in 2011.

 Today with a single vehicle, the Library’s Outreach Department balances patron demand with a weekly schedule of 25 stops. (See the schedule at thelibrary.org/mobilelibrary.) Bookmobile staff/drivers Rob Manning and Mary Ragain make six to seven, 30-minute stops each day, with just 15 minutes between each stop. To Bookmobile regulars, they are personal friends – Rob’s been serving them since 1999; Mary since 2012.

One thing hasn’t changed over the last 75 years: The people we serve. They are children, teens and especially older adults without transportation. Others have physical or health limitations. Many don’t have internet, computers or portable devices to access the Library’s e-books and other digital services.  

The Mobile Library has been in service nearly 12 years, now, and her mechanics are showing the wear even with careful upkeep. Bookmobiles of the future may trend smaller and more economical – beating our current 10 mpg – but Outreach Manager Allison Eckhardt believes there will always be a need.

“The digital divide is real, and we serve a lot of people.”  

Vickie Hicks is community relations director for the Springfield-Greene County Library District. She can be reached at vickieh@thelibrary.org.

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