TERRE HAUTE —
The spin of a rotary phone would seem like an eternity, these days.
Today, two clicks on a cellphone can connect you with a friend in less time than it took to dial a zero. When the call was a tough one, the slow churn of each number was like a countdown, giving us time to fine-tune our opening line. Now, we’re linked almost instantly; so, ready or not, the conversation begins.
Still, most of us wouldn’t trade our 21st-century telecommunications gadgets for an old-school, curly-corded telephone. Nor would we go back to steel-pointed Jarts, 8-track tape players and manual steering in our cars.
But a few 1950s trends hold up remarkably well, more than a half-century later. Bookmobiles fit that category.
Actually, the “library on wheels” concept originated around 1900 with a horse and wagon in Hagerstown, Md. But the use of bookmobiles exploded in the ’50s, thanks to federal grants through the Library Services Act. Vigo County unveiled its first bookmobile on April 18, 1955, in front of the former main branch — the Emeline Fairbanks Memorial Library on North Seventh Street.
As a child of the 1960s, I remember anxiously awaiting that bookmobile’s regular stops at Prairieton Elementary School. This wasn’t a frontier town, but trips to the public library in Terre Haute took some extra planning for my parents, who were raising five children. So the bookmobile brought the literary world to us, in our little village in southwestern Vigo County. That’s where I found “Catcher with a Glass Arm” by Matt Christopher, a must-read for Little League catchers like myself.
That was the mission of America’s bookmobiles — to put books in the hands of people in rural areas and neighborhoods miles away from a local library branch.
In 2010, that premise seems particularly relevant, especially in Indiana. The implementation of property-tax caps has forced the closing of satellite branches in several Hoosier library districts, including Vigo County, where its Southland, Plaza North and Meadows locations shut down last year. Those painful closings saved the district $600,000, which should cover the expected funding shortfall in 2010, said Nancy Dowell, Vigo County Public Library director.
Some regular patrons of the lost branches have shifted to the main branch downtown, which has experienced a “huge increase” in traffic. Others are using the library’s Outreach Services, which uses a small van to deliver requested materials to homebound and disabled folks, preschools and day-cares, group homes, senior centers, churches and hospitals. But a certain segment of the Southland, Plaza North and Meadows have simply stopped using the library, Dowell said.
Could a bookmobile be the answer?
Vigo County ended its bookmobile service in 1996 because of “a lack of people using it,” Dowell explained, and mounting service costs. Occasionally, the library board has discussed the possibility of reviving the bookmobile. But bookmobiles aren’t cheap. Most new bookmobiles — crafted on school bus chassis — sell for $150,000 or more, and then must be staffed with a driver/librarian, fueled and equipped with books, Internet service, CDs, DVDs and books on tape.
For Vigo County, resumption of bookmobile service isn’t a viable option, Dowell said, especially with the door-to-door Outreach Services already available. Automated kiosks, similar to DVD vending machines, placed in high-traffic areas such as a grocery store lobby might be an affordable way for the library to expand its reach, Dowell added.
In other Hoosier communities, the bookmobile still fits a need.
Thirty-seven bookmobiles currently serve Indiana counties and towns, according to the most recent count by the National Center for Educational Statistics. The state ranks fifth nationally in the number of bookmobiles. The top five also includes two neighboring states, Kentucky (No. 1) and Ohio (No. 3), along with California (No. 2) and North Carolina (No. 5).
The Putnam County Library has offered continual bookmobile service for more than a half-century. For the past 17 years, Jane Glier has been Putnam County’s bookmobile librarian, making stops at day cares, tiny towns, nursing homes, youth camps, senior apartment houses and schools. “For some kids, this is the only library service they ever see,” Glier said.
In 2009, Putnam County’s bookmobile distributed 27,926 items, accounting for 10.9 percent of the library’s overall circulation last year. The library purchased the current bookmobile, made by Matthews Specialty Vehicles, in 2005. That one replaced a 1994 model. Besides the $180,000 pricetag, the yearly staffing and operating cost for a bookmobile averages between $50,000 and $60,000, said Putnam County Public Library director Alice Greenburg.
“A bookmobile is a significant investment,” Greenburg said.
The value, though, is also significant in Putnam County, where the lone library branch is in Greencastle. “It’s increased access for people who can’t make the trip to Greencastle,” said Greenburg, who is “committed to the bookmobile.”
Each community is different, and must decide whether it could benefit from a bus loaded with 5,000 books and videos, as well as wireless Internet laptops.
“We have found that using a bookmobile is a lot more cost effective than having a branch library,” Jody Olivieri, past president of the American Library Association said by telephone from Homer Township Library in Illinois. “But we also know a vehicle doesn’t hold its value the way a building does.”
Nationwide, the number of bookmobiles in use has fallen overall since the 1980s, but has increased recently. The U.S. bookmobile count jumped from 825 in 2005 to 930 in 2008, according to a report by the ALA.
“The biggest thing is they’re very flexible,” Michael Swendrowski, chairman of the ALA subcommittee on bookmobiles, said by phone from Muskego, Wis. The materials stocked on a bookmobile can be customized for the people at particular stops.
Bookmobiles aren’t merely vestiges of the past either, he added. Most come with wireless Internet stations. Some are powered with solar panels and use recycled materials. They cut fuel usage, “because these patrons don’t have to make their way in [to the main branch],” Swendrowski said. “So they’re actually very green.”
They’re not your father’s bookmobile, but he’d feel right at home climbing up those steps.
Mark Bennett can be reached at (812) 231-4377 or email@example.com.
TERRE HAUTE —
The spin of a rotary phone would seem like an eternity, these days.
- Mark Bennett Opinion
Mark Bennett: High-profile mural connects historical dots from city to river
At 96 feet wide and 2 stories tall, the power, impact and value of the Wabash will be evident.
MARK BENNETT: Life at face value: Mom’s simple advice still presents a valuable daily challenge
Most moms don’t base their advice on scientific research.
(Unless, of course, your mother is a scientific researcher. If so, carry a No. 2 pencil and take good notes.)
MARK BENNETT: Should I stay or should I go?
Some have their Bill Clinton-era Cavalier packed (with the trunk bungee-ed shut), apartment cleaned (except for the fridge), and iPhone GPS locked onto the fastest route out of Terre Haute. Others are staying — until they find a better job, or because they’re starting a career here, or because this town feels like home. In each case, a new stage of life begins today.
College Class of '13 gets a little extra advice
Local college grads will hear commencement speakers offer life and career advice this month. We’re offering them an extra dose here from folks who’ve found success in various vocations and regions of the nation. Many have Terre Haute roots.
MARK BENNETT: Spirited response to a rising river
The power within the Wabash revealed itself last week.
MARK BENNETT: Littered with irony: Why do people callously discard their trash, and who are they?
Though they aren’t acknowledged by the U.S. Census Bureau, there are basically two demographic groups of people … Those who would dump their old toilet on the banks of the Wabash River or a rural roadside. And those who wouldn’t.
MARK BENNETT: Performing under the radar: Toiling for years behind the scenes, Terre Haute native J.T. Corenflos finally earned a splash of musical recognition
People who diligently work to make others shine are a rare breed.
Season of Day 2s arrives
Calendars in Cincinnati contain one extra holiday — Opening Day, traditionally the first Monday in April.
MARK BENNETT: Amid tragedy and chaos, the hopeful smiles of youth could not be repressed
The image jars the viewer. On its own, the old photograph appears ordinary. Three smiling kids.
MARK BENNETT: A century later, ‘On the Banks of the Wabash’ still rises above Indiana politics
Music and politics share one commonality — people who like a style different from yours are nuts.
MARK BENNETT: Digit dialing a thing of the past, but telephoning is still a numbers game
You’ve heard of child prodigies who can play Mozart on piano or perform calculus at the age of 5.
That wasn’t me.
MARK BENNETT: After years of preparation, 60 immigrants will gather in Terre Haute on March 14 to pledge their allegiance to the United States of America
It will have been a long and difficult road, but it will be an emotional moment when they raise their right hands and begin the oath of citizenship
MARK BENNETT: The fall and rise of a ‘Young Titan’
Broken. Humiliated. Discarded. Finished.
Few of us think of Winston Churchill in such bleak terms.
MARK BENNETT: Trying to keep momentum of acceptance within the community a key part of Jeff Lorick’s job
Second-graders’ eyes and minds function differently.
They see the future unjaded. Their possibilities stand tall, not yet choked by the adult weeds of prejudice and bitterness.
MARK BENNETT: For Glenda Ritz, being educator, ‘not a politician’ still makes good political sense
Educator, not a politician.
Glenda Ritz emphasizes that distinction about herself.
MARK BENNETT: Falling short of the big prize will produce lessons nonetheless
This is a day for Roman numerals.
Americans seldom use them. And when we do, humility is not our purpose.
MARK BENNETT: Forgotten Message: Advice from ‘The Mick’ should be remembered in wake of Lance Armstrong’s troubles
The two comments were almost identical.
MARK BENNETT: A sense of Americana constant passenger as iconic Corvette motors through milestone birthday
On my last ride at the wheel of a ’Vette, I was a wide-eyed teenager, guiding my brother’s almost-new, orange 1976 model.
MARK BENNETT: Sculptor from North Carolina to capture image of Indiana’s first black state legislator
Well-meaning parents try to instill strong character in their kids.
“Don’t be afraid to stand up for your beliefs,” moms and dads will insist, “even if you stand alone.”
MARK BENNETT: Heart ailments, avoidable health issues affect high numbers of Vigo residents
Many folks in Vigo County will analyze digits on their bathroom scales this month. After all, January and fitness resolutions are traditional partners.
MARK BENNETT: For some people in the Wabash Valley, happy holidays require a little help
Picture yourself as a kid, not yet 5 years old, growing up in a small house in Terre Haute.
MARK BENNETT: Beware Ignorance and Want and reap the benefits of early education
Pretend that Charles Dickens is about to become Indiana’s next governor.
MARK BENNETT: In spirit of season, calculate your fiscal cliff impact, then argue
Envision “chestnuts roasting on an open fire.”
MARK BENNETT: Members of Congress should be free to consider all sides of an issue
Attempting to trump the U.S. Constitution requires some nerve.
MARK BENNETT: An unbudging Congress standing on opposing sides accomplishes little
Sausage patties, hugging a scoop of scrambled eggs and a couple slices of toast on a plate, and chased with nearby steaming black coffee.
MARK BENNETT: Hoosier voters issue mandate on Bennett’s school reforms
Mike Pence, Mitch Daniels and Indiana legislators should respect the votes of 1,315,026 Hoosiers.
MARK BENNETT: Elections, governing would look a lot different if everybody voted
A raffle ticket purchase usually comes with a disclaimer — “you must be present to win.”
MARK BENNETT: On Election Day, as Vigo County goes, so goes the United States
Hempstead sounds like a fine place.
MARK BENNETT: Upcoming PBS documentary focuses on nation’s voting irregularities, through Hoosier eyes
As America prepares to choose its governmental leaders, voters are being relentlessly asked how much they trust elected officials.
MARK BENNETT: Quest for knowledge keeps going as Elliott Gould prepares to speak in Terre Haute
As our conversation began, Elliott Gould was in the midst of learning. He was reading a book.
- More Mark Bennett Opinion Headlines
- Mark Bennett: High-profile mural connects historical dots from city to river