Should the Library Purchase a Bookmobile?

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Original Question from Leard R. Daughety, Director, Oconee Regional Library:
Yesterday, I was contacted by a patron strongly urging me to purchase a book mobile for Laurens County. We have not had one for many years.
Would you mind responding regarding why you still have one or why you stopped having one.
I have my thoughts on this but I am trying to be open minded since the patron is an official of a parent teacher association and feels like "cost should not be a factor to the library".

Response from Dusty Gres, Director, Ohoopee Regional Library System: We no longer have a bookmobile because the one we had, a 1975 Ford van, in the bread truck style, died a long and lingering death two years ago, slowed and staved off only by the fact that there are numerous good shade-tree mechanics in this area and several fairly extensive junk yards (usually the back lot of the shade tree mechanic) for parts...
That being said, if I had the money to buy another one I would in a heartbeat -- but for different purposes.
First -- since I am tied to the CNI population for funding I would not with my new one (lovingly called in my plans, The Phantom Bookmobile) go to the nursing homes, prisons, half-way houses, college dormitories and youth detention homes -- as I did before --unless, of course, someone, somewhere in the legislature or the governor's office or wherever they made that ridiculous decision about the CNI came to their senses...but that is another discussion. OK, yes I would still go, but I'd be grumbling under my breath all the way....
I would continue to go to the schools in the counties where I receive funding from B of E's -- if still requested. Those were popular stops with the elementary school teachers, especially.
Where else would I go: to all the remote areas, way the heck outside of anywhere, where I went before because those folks just can't get out most of the time -- yes, yes, I know they can get to Wal-Mart -- whenever the migrant bus decides to get there or the once a week excursion for groceries with the pick-up truck is arranged, but really, is that a reason for denying service -- they can get to Wal-Mart therefore they can adjust their schedule to whenever your library can be open? And, let's not forget that mass transit is not a phrase that anyone in this area knows about.
The busiest stops we had on the old bookmobile were the local large manufacturing firms (before they all went to Mexico) during the lunch hours and, the Wal-Mart parking lot on Saturday (if Mohammed will not go to the mountain...)
I would use satellite technology (because cell phones don't work out there) to bring Internet connectivity because there isn't any out there other than dial-up and let me tell you, the dial up is slow (no matter what speed your modem says it is, you usually get around 7500 K in the remote areas, believe me, I know) -- yes -- I could use a bookmobile, IF I had the time and money was no object.
I have, in my "If I have the time and money is no object" planning file, a plan for this bookmobile, a plan that could include other regions and parts of the state, kind of a PINES bookmobile if you will...
BUT -- my "IIHTTAMWNO" phantom bookmobile, as I have planned it out, would cost about a quarter of a million for 3 years (counting the initial cost of purchase and set-up) and continuing costs would include an additional two, if not three, full-time staff -- one of whom would have to be bi-lingual. SO -- why do I not have a bookmobile? Because I do NOT have the time and money IS an object.
Bookmobile service, to those who really need it, is a luxury I cannot afford; while bookmobile service, to those who no longer need it, is something that most folks think of when they think of bookmobiles and they want it because of nostalgia and ennui.

Response from Anne Isbell, Director,Lake Blackshear Regional Library: We operate a bookmobile with varying degrees of success. It goes to nursing homes and schools, but is mostly used to visit individual homes in our more remote areas. It is a huge money pit, but it is also a moving billboard for the library system every time it goes out. Ours is 14 years old and when it finally bites the dust, I doubt that we can afford to replace it. The last time I priced bookmobiles, one like ours was 200-250K.

Response from Donna Howell, Director, Mt. Regional Library System: We had bookmobile service since 1946. We purchased a new bookmobile in 2000 and it was such a lemon that it cost a fortune to keep it running and it stayed in the shop so much it was not worth the trouble. We tried for a couple of years to do the usual route with a minivan. It worked to a point, but was inefficient and expensive. Then with budget cuts in 2005 and 2006 we did not have the money to continue to keep two staff members out on the road and keep the doors open on our buildings too. So, it came down to a choice of whether to close the buildings and replace the bookmobile or stop bookmobile service while we were out of a vehicle. I love bookmobile service - it was my first library job in the NC mountains. I believe, like Dusty, that it reaches people who really would not have other opportunities for service. But, I can't justify the expense currently We have only 13.9 FTE to provide public service within our four library buildings, and that is including the 2 positions transitioned from the bookmobile! Like Dusty, if I had lots of local money, and or enough staff to handle keeping the doors open and provide the bookmobile staff I would love to offer the service - especially in some of our remote areas. But alas I do not! We do still offer delivery service to those in our area who are truly homebound. They call and tell us what they want, we select, check out, and deliver them and pick up what they had. We don't have a fixed schedule and no dedicated staff. Whoever happens to be going the right direction at the time does the delivery. Like Emerson, we got and still get complaints (though I must say more from the staff who liked being out of the building all day than from patrons), but most people understand the economics of it.

Response from Alan Kaye, Director, Roddenbery Memorial Library: We bought our bookmobile old and used and tried to set up a route during the summers that would later expand into year-round service. That was nearly 20 years ago, and I’ll have to say that the response to the summer routes was good in some places and a complete waste of time in others.
Our county is not like some in Georgia. It has one viable city in the center of it, and everything else is WAY rural, like lonely-bookmobile-staff rural, if no one comes to the stop.
Some might still say that bookmobile service is good, because it can cover those outlying areas that are several miles from the library. I’ve placed a bookmobile in two different SPLOST proposals, but they were eliminated because of being a vehicle.
Our local governments don’t favor branch libraries, and they are not too fond of bookmobiles. If we had received SPLOST funding for a bookmobile, I would have gone the route of trying to create a rolling branch library, like those hospital wellness vehicles, capable of sitting in one place for several hours on a hot day and still maintaining a friendly, well-equipped, well-connected environment inside.
Obviously that’s not what we had with the old one, and we put ours out to pasture nearly 10 years ago. There was a fellow here who could make it run when scientific fact said it really wouldn’t run, so it was still sort of working, but no, it really wasn’t.
Considering fuel costs, repairs, insurance, and decisions about how to handle bookmobile circulation, we hit on the bright idea of selling it, finally settling for $800, and then the lady couldn’t pay all at once, so it took nearly 6 months for us to get the money from her. Of course she was upset that it really didn’t run.
My good driver left right after that, so we would really have been in an interesting situation if we had received the SPLOST money.

Response from Wendy Weinberger, Director, Screven-Jenkins Regional Library System:
Our book mobile is fantastic and even has a computer on it. It does break down about twice a year with one thing or another - the bad generator kept it out of service for about two months one time.( the dirt roads kick up dust that gets into the engine and airconditioner). In poor counties like ours it seems really a blessing to be able to bring a library to people who would not otherwise come to the library. Our school board has been wonderful and maintains the bookmobile like they do their school buses. For us the book mobile is a real plus for our community. Also we did not have to purchase the bookmobile it was a grant.
What we pay for is manning it and supplying it with books, magazines and dvd's. If we had to fund the 'entire' bookmobile from soup to nuts ther is no way we could afford to have a bookmobile.

Response from JoEllen Ostendorf, Director, Troup-Harris Regional Library: Well, to beat what is probably by now a dead horse, cost is the PRIMARY factor! We discontinued our bookmobile service in FY04 when all those cuts came down the pike. Patrons in Harris County, which is largely rural, complained bitterly, however, the Troup County Clerk asked me why all these people from Harris County were writing Troup and if they wanted bookmobile service, Harris County could fund it – you can guess where that went!
My board is in the midst of a strategic planning process and we have a county commission chair who came on new last year and would really like to see the library reinstate bookmobile service. The library board has discussed it and agreed we would not go back to traditional bookmobile service but use our existing library van and primarily visit nursing homes, hospitals, day care centers, senior centers, etc. We will not return to visiting public schools since they all have media centers and the teachers were using it for their own personal library – i.e., they would turn in book requests for themselves and want the books personally delivered to them via the bookmobile.
I estimate the minimum cost for doing limited “bookmobile” service will be about $40,000 a year, most of this going for salaries. I am meeting with the county manager tomorrow to discuss this. I expect the request for additional money will be “no”, but at least I can say we tried.
And, if anyone does want a bookmobile, if you are willing to tow it away, you can have ours for $1!

Response from Alan Harkness, Director, Piedmont Regional Library System:
We still have "bookmobile" service. In reality, it is a an E150 van that just delivers books (there is a person who selects materials and drives it too!).No one gets on or off of it, and it doesn't make community stops like a traditional bookmobile.
For us, it makes economic sense as we get $50,000 from Barrow Schools, $11,000 from Jackson schools and it is part of the "package" that we sell to our funding agencies for Regional Membership Fees, among other services.
The 1950's model of service doesn't work here, in fact with Jackson County having more libraries per capita than any other county in the state (I'm pretty sure... 7 "libraries", 55K people).. you could argue that we wouldn't need bookmobile service at all in Jackson County. However, our Regional Board passed this month a change in our model for delivery to increase our circs/stop and we are phasing out individuals and preschools (unless the preschools want to buy in).We've almost gotten to the point where the costs for the service are balanced by the $$ we pull in for it. One more year, and I think it'll be self-sustaining.
Our bookmobile circulates more than several of our libraries. Read into that what you will, but business is relatively good, for us.
We'll continue to hit the public schools that pay for the service (a very good return on their investment $$ from our perspective), and we'll continue to serve assisted-living centers, Headstarts, senior centers, technical schools, etc. As with much else that we all are doing, no one model for service works the same everywhere. When/if the schools pull out, we'll have to re-evaluate the service, but for the time being, our version of a bookmobile still exists.

Response from Joe Forsee, Director, Northwest Gerogia Regional Library System: While I think it is a rare library that can still run one the same way they did in the 60's and 70's, I think they can still provide good service and help the library system be very responsive in areas where it is not possible or practical to build and operate a facility.
We quit because there was a targeted state aid cut. We had to take it in what was Maintenace and Operation. We used that to pay for operating the vehicle and paying the staff. We had to eliminate a position, and could not afford the larger vehicle.
Hope that helps.By the way, if "cost is not a factor", I think you should have one…and several other improvements, as well.