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New bookmobile ready to roll

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Books from the old Pitt County Bookmobile are emptied and put into the new bookmobile that touts better fuel efficiency, wifi and more.


By Kim Grizzard
The Daily Reflector

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

What's the perfect gift for the book lover who has everything? A new set of wheels — with 2,000 volumes on board.

Just in time for Christmas, the new Pitt County Bookmobile has arrived at Sheppard Memorial Library. Patrons can check out the new vehicle on Saturday when it makes its debut at Winterville and Greenville Christmas parades.

The 2017 custom-built bus made a quiet entrance into town Dec. 1, surprising some library-goers when it rolled up outside Sheppard's main library. By Monday, it had been moved to Greenville Public Works, where nearly a dozen volunteers transferred thousands of books from the 1998 bookmobile to the new model.

“We wanted to kind of keep it under wraps until we initiated the transfer,” Bookmobile Librarian Hilliard Woolard said. He and fellow librarian Nathan Maxwell will test drive the new vehicle this week and then add a few decorations before Saturday's big reveal.

“We're looking forward to that,” Woolard said. “I didn't think our bus builders were going to get it to us in time. They promised they'd do what they could, and they did.”

The old bookmobile, which had logged more than 100,000 miles, experienced engine failure in late May. The new bus is months overdue.

“We thought we were going to have it in September or October,” Sheppard Memorial Library Director Greg Needham said.

He explained there were several reasons for the delay. For starters, a bookmobile doesn't just roll off an assembly line ready for readers. The new vehicle started in High Point as a Thomas bus before being sent to Greensboro to be customized.

First, there was a three to four week delay in the delivery of the chassis. Then, a production manager at Matthews Specialty Vehicles was out of work for six weeks due to an illness, causing further delays.

“It just stacks up,” Needham said. “Good things, though, come to those who wait.”

The new bookmobile is about 2 feet shorter than the older model, but the flat-nose configuration on the front end frees up about 4 feet of additional space inside for books. The vehicle has up three times better fuel efficiency, 8 to 12 miles per gallon, compared with 4 miles per gallon for the older bus. It also features advanced diesel technology for improved emissions, backing cameras for safety and cell-boosting technology to allow computers on board to check out books in real time.

“No matter what nook or cranny of the county you're in, it'll access the network just like it was a branch sitting anywhere else,” Needham said.

The new bookmobile cost nearly $200,000 to build, $100,000 of which was funded by Pitt County, with Friends of Sheppard Library contributing about $20,000 and $10,000 in funding from a Perkins Trust grant. Needham said the library set aside funding for several years for the replacement.

Historically, federal grants were available to help local libraries pay for bookmobiles, but Needham said that in recent years, more of those funds have been directed to the purchase of public computers. As a result, some libraries, such as the Beaufort-Hyde-Martin Regional Library, have been unable to keep their bookmobiles on the road.

It’s a different story in Pitt County, where bookmobile service has been offered since 1947. The bookmobile circulates about 16,000 books a year, accounting for about 3 percent of the library's total circulation. It makes about five dozen stops a month at locations such as nursing homes, day care centers and rural communities with limited access to a library. 

“Thousands of people will go on board every month,” Needham said. “Even though it's 2017, almost 2018, there are lots of people who can't get to the library.”

Woolard, who has just returned to work part-time after three months of medical leave, is looking forward to getting to reconnect with his regular patrons, who range in age from 3 to 95.

He expects that both younger and older bookmobile regulars will appreciate one new feature, an automatic step that slides out to make climbing aboard a little easier. With the old bookmobile, Woolard had to position a stool on the ground to help give folks a boost toward the vehicle's steps.

“It's a lot different from our bus of 20 years ago,” he said. “It's nice, right down to the new car smell.”

The Pitt County Bookmobile is expected resume its regular service within the next few weeks. For more information, call 329-4251 or visit sheppardlibrary.org.

Contact Kim Grizzard at 329-9578 and kgrizzard@reflector.com.