Bookmobile

This is a photo of one of the Northern Waters Library Service bookmobiles, unknown vintage.

The last semblance of a bookmobile in Washburn County was in the year 1999 when Northern Waters Library Service Traveling Library ended.

The Multi-County Library Bookmobile, serving 63 communities, traveled the northwestern Wisconsin backroads for 40 years before the service ended due to cost and another more tech-based option, Merlin. Merlin (now Northern Waters Library Network), allows patrons to request items online from any library in the network.

More rural book drops were added and Mail-a-book was, and is still, offered to patrons living in areas without a public library.

Despite grassroots efforts to continue the bookmobile and sentiments from patrons who believed this service was more than just a mobile library, the days of the bookmobile were over. Or, were they?

In 2020-21, the Spooner Memorial Library Board of Trustees, Director Angie Bodzislaw, and members of the community developed the library strategic plan for the next five years. One focus of the plan is to “establish the library as an innovative, accessible, inclusive and equitable community hub.”

Part of the plan is to increase the library’s reach by investigating township opportunities for service. Pre-COVID-19 Bodzislaw worked alongside Shell Lake Public Library Director Christine Seaton to discuss pop-up libraries across Washburn County, utilizing town halls. As food needs increased during the pandemic and a partnership with Feed My People Food Bank developed, this idea morphed into Books & Bread, which has now served over 2,000 individuals and distributed 17,000-plus pounds of food.

A Minong branch library and a bookmobile were also included in items to investigate.

Admittedly, a bookmobile was a fanciful dream, but the board adopted a visionary approach and decided to dream big. As the population ages and libraries return their focus to outreach and “bringing the library to the people,” bookmobiles are making a comeback across Wisconsin.

Outreach efforts have increased exponentially since 2020 at Spooner Memorial Library, many thanks to Outreach Librarian Katy Larson and the Library Board’s desire to serve the community. Larson takes books to St. Francis de Sales school, leads Books & Bread, and partners with the Spooner Senior Center, to name a few things. Bodzislaw hopes to take library resources to every township in Washburn County, and a bookmobile will help the library fulfill that mission.

At a board meeting during the summer of 2021, Bodzislaw mentioned a grant opportunity and asked what the board thought she should apply for. She asked the board to dream big. Pete Hopke, school representative on the board, said, “What about a bookmobile?” The board approved this decision, and Bodzislaw started researching bookmobiles.

From extravagant $300,000-plus buses to converted decommissioned ambulances, the options were endless and expensive. Bodzislaw wanted a bookmobile that was sustainable, accessible, and could withstand winters in Wisconsin.

Summit Bodyworks out of Denver, Colorado, had developed a specialty vehicle that fit those needs. With that information, Bodzislaw applied for the Wisconsin Department of Instruction’s Library as a Center for Community Resiliency Grant in the amount of $97,000. And, in early December 2021, she received a congratulatory email announcing that the library’s Books & Bread Bookmobile project was funded in full!

In fact, the first week of December was a week of celebration at the library as it was granted two more funded projects on behalf of the NWLS and IFLS library systems (more on that later).

The next step is to purchase the bookmobile. Unfortunately, Summit Bodyworks has canceled the development of the design quoted to the library and is now making prototypes with an upgraded design. Unfortunately, there is not an accurate timeline or price yet for the upgraded model.

The upgraded model is expected to be over $150,000, so Bodzislaw will continue to research other specialty vehicle manufacturers in the interim. She recently reached out to Josh Saunders, owner of Attention to Detail in Spooner, who has many connections and is excited to help the library find a builder for the bookmobile or even help build the bookmobile himself.

A new bookmobile serving Washburn County is anticipated in 2022 or 2023.

As the library awaits the addition of a bookmobile, a smaller outreach vehicle will be added to its fleet by summer 2022 – a book bike. The library’s book bike will look more like a backwards tricycle, with two wheels in the front with a box between the wheels. The box opens up to book shelves and a surface area to house a laptop and other equipment for offsite checkouts.

The bike will be used at outreach events in an effort to reach library users wherever they are and will be purchased with funds from another grant, DPI’s Hybrid Library Service Model Grant.

The future of your library will be mobile and more accessible. The library team and trustees are thankful to be a recipient of DPI’s grants, allowing the library to fulfill its mission of offering opportunity, celebrating community, and promoting literacy.

(Copyright © 2022 APG Media)

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