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photo by Gord Bowes

photo by Gord Bowes

Bookmobile staff Mary Kennedy (left) and Denise Chaston pose for a photo during a recent stop at Lawfield elementary school on the east Mountain. Next Wednesday is National Bookmobile Day.

Bringing books to the masses

By Gord Bowes, News staff

Hamilton’s libraries on wheels are just as busy as some brick-and-mortar locations.
“We can do as much circulation in two hours as some of the smaller branches do in maybe a five-hour day,” says Denise Chaston, driver of one of two Hamilton Public Library bookmobiles.
The city has been served by rolling libraries for 57 years.
The first bookmobile hit the road in December 1956. It was a hit, circulating more children’s items than the main branch downtown. A second library on wheels was added in 1961 to deal with the demand.
“It was set up to be in locations that were far away from a branch, so the library comes to you,” says Chaston. “It was to fill in the gap between branches and bring the service to everybody.”
These days, the bookmobiles are on the road Monday to Thursdays. The two-person teams assigned to each of them make biweekly stops at 25 seniors buildings across the city and 12 neighbourhood stops at elementary schools and recreation centres.
They carry about 2,500 items for all ages, from books to comics to magazines to movies, and just like a permanent branch you can place a hold or pickup reserved items on a bookmobile. Last year, the bookmobile department circulated about 130,000 items.
“It’s very much like a neighbourhood branch,” says Mary Kennedy, an information clerk who has been on the road for about seven years.
“We try to bring everything new. We don’t carry anything more than a year-and-a-half old. We try to keep it really fresh.”
The bookmobile teams start their days by loading their vehicles with popular items and ones placed on hold by users. They make two stops each day and return at the end of their shift to sort returns and perform the same sort of duties as their book-and-mortar counterparts.
Central Mountain parent Lisa Evink says she has been stopping by the bookmobile during its stops at Lawfield school for about four years. She often checks out what’s available while waiting for her son to get of school for the day.
“It’s so convenient,” she says. “This is my home library.”
Even though the bookmobile may be parked at a school or senior building, it’s not exclusively for those users, says Chaston. “Everybody’s welcome. Anyone can come aboard.”
If you can’t recognize the bookmobiles by their distinctive paint jobs, you can by their licence plates: EZREDR and BKS*2GO, both chosen in a 1991 contest. Inside, it’s a customized design to allow display of the items and enough room for patrons to walk without bumping into each other.
Also, the shelves are tilted so things don’t go flying when the vehicle moves a corner.
“It could be a disaster if it weren’t well done,” says Kennedy.
For some library employees, a job on the bookmobile is coveted. But not every wants to be in a mobile workplace and for a position such as the driver, not everyone is qualified. Chaston, who started as a part-time driver 15 years ago, says the qualifications include havings a DZ licence and a library information services diploma.
“It’s not for everyone,” she says. “We don’t have a bathroom, we don’t have a lunchroom. I wear work boots, we have to dress a little warmer than we would in a (permanent) location. There are a few things that people don’t find that attractive.”

Bookmobile Day April 16

April 16 is National Bookmobile Day. To mark the occasion, Hamilton Public Library will be holding the second annual Bookmobile Lugnut Lottery. Every time the bookmobile parks at a neighbourhood stop from April 14-24, the name on the lug nut at the top of the wheel will be recorded. The stop with the highest count will win a pizza party. The HPL is also having a “Bookmobiles from Around the World” display. If you have any photos of other bookmobiles from your travels, you can bring it to your neighbourhood stop to add to the display.

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