Sunday, April 15, 2012

Bookmobile Memories

The old Marin County Bookmobile - not as huge as I remembered it

My first "real" job--other than babysitting, housecleaning for my mom, and ironing @ 5 cents per shirt for one of my babysitting families--was Assistant Bookmobile Driver at a county library system in northern California. I helped out on the school bookmobile that went to schools that didn't have their own libraries, and I sometimes got to go on the residential bookmobile that I had used when I was a child.

It was a marvelous job for a young college dropout (I finished up many years later), and a wonderful introduction to library work. In those pre-computer days, people relied on the librarian to help them find books and to assist them in using the card catalog. We didn't have a full catalog on the bookmobiles, so a good memory was essential at all times. I quickly learned to memorize which books were waiting in the piles to be re-shelved, because someone might be looking for one of them.

My scariest moment at that job was when the regular driver, Edna, was out sick and I had to drive the huge, lumbering truck all on my own for the first time. Edna and I had practiced together for just such an event and I was assured by the head librarian that I would do just fine. Everything was going well until I got stopped in traffic on a steep hill. Anyone who has ever driven a standard transmission will remember that awful feeling of scooting your foot from the brake to the gas pedal while letting the clutch out, especially while on a hill: For beginning drivers there is always a sickening moment when the vehicle rolls a bit backwards until either the clutch catches or the car stalls. With such a huge and weighty truck, the roll backwards happened faster and lasted longer, and I was terrified that I would roll back into someone. After several increasingly panicky tries, I finally had to back down the hill and into a driveway, wait for all the traffic to pass and for my heart to stop pounding, and take a running start at the hill. It was a sweaty moment, let me tell you!

I mention all this because although you might have missed it, April 11th was National Bookmobile Day, which is part of the annual April observance of National Library Week. During all my years of working in libraries, I somehow managed to miss celebrating National Library Week, part of my general obliviousness to dates and times, no doubt. This year was no different and I missed it again, but I still like thinking about my old bookmobile days.

Have you ever had a bookmobile in your life? Do you have any bookmobile memories you would like to share in the comments?

This photo was sent to me by a California friend, showing
the smaller bookmobile version that is used these days in Marin County. I'll bet it's an automatic!


John said...

Here in Beverly, MA we are one of the few communities that still has a regularly operating bookmobile. See It is very popular and frequently seen driving about town.

Several years ago, the library started a fundraiser to replace the aging bookmobile, and after a couple years a local bank contributed all the remaining funds needed for a new one. I smile every time I see it on the streets. I like that our small city will bring the books to you, if you can come to the books!

Sallie ( said...

I remember that standard transmission on a hill sinking feeling -- and that was just with a regular car -- Way to go driving that hurking thing!

Libraries have been a huge part of my life since I was barely able to read. But never a bookmobile -- have always been able to get to the building (sometimes they're just small branches or community volunteer libraries, sometimes huge main ones, but always there's a library; I can't imagine not going to one regularly.

clairz said...

Here are more comments from my Facebook page answering the question "Have you ever had a bookmobile in your life?"

Lilly Hansen Yes... I sure was and that was many moons ago for sure! Hello Clair.

Sara Lawrence Dolan Yes and loved it!

Alison Lamond Yes, we had one in one town I lived it. Loved it!

Barbara Jester O'Brien When I was a child they came to the park in Baltimore once a week all summer long. Loved it.

Kim White Yes I do remember the Book Mobile. I lived in Conn. at the time. I must have been in first grade or so.

Breeda Lagan Royer YEP -- back in Hartford CT ... always came to the local playground park ... once every 2 weeks during the summer...

Breeda Lagan Royer btw... the local playground park... was a GOOD SAFE place to be... for swim lessons, slides, swings, basketball hoops, Mr Softee ice cream truck and the BookMobile and the travelling summer theater group (I think from Trinity College in Hartford)...

Kathie Piaszk Up until last year we still had one in our area...stopped not 5 minutes from our house twice a month. County cutbacks have eliminated it now, too bad.

Christine Alves Kenneway Came through my Grandmother's neighborhood...coolest thing I had ever seen!

Janelle Reed Yep. Right there in Puyallup, Washington!

Linda said...

We had one in my home village into the 1980s. It was always a great adventure to go along to the village square and up the wee steep steps into the van.
Your rolling backwards in a large vehicle sounds scary. Here it's the norm to learn to drive on 'standard' transmission, so virtually all 17 year old learners have to grapple with the sliding backwards thing at the outset. And Edinburgh is a very hilly city. 'Hill starts' are a great milestone to master.

Beth said...

I'm so glad to know that there are still bookmobiles rolling out there. No bookmobile memories in my life, but my first job in high school was at the library. Well, really, my first job in high school was the burger place, but thank God the library called two weeks after I started slinging burgers and I got to sling books instead. I was in heaven at the library.

Val said...

Love your story!