It’s Monday, so this lime green whale-sized Dane County Library Service bookmobile — “Booker” — is headed to its weekly docking in the village of Blue Mounds, population 757. Three of those await, including the Hildreth sisters, Anna, 10, Lizzie, 9, and, most anxiously, Gracie, 7.
Summer has just started and already Gracie is desperate to reload. In the past week, she has plowed through five books, including “Happy Birthday, Moon,” in which a bear tries to give the moon a birthday present, and “Five Little Bunnies Hopping on a Hill,” which is in the monkeys-jumping-on-the-bed genre.
“And a truck book,” adds Gracie, as she returns her summer reading program books to Deb Glodowski.
Donata Hildreth said her three daughters have been asking about the bookmobile all day. Glodowski is in her 24th year as a book lender and chauffeur and today’s ringmaster on one of Wisconsin’s nine remaining in-service bookmobiles. So eagerly anticipated, she could just as well be showing up driving a Ringling circus wagon.
The Booker is no ordinary wagon. It is 35 feet long, travels 257 miles a week in rain, snow and sunshine, carries about 3,500 items (books, movies, DVDs, large-print, magazines, CDs), not including the boxes of books reserved online by readers who visit at 15 stops in Dane County. Any notion of declining book reading or bookmobile use in the digital age of Kindle, WI-FI and the internet can’t be proven here, said Julie Anne Chase, director of the Dane County Library Service.
While the number of bookmobiles in Wisconsin is down to nine, the Dane County bookmobile is going strong and in neighboring Wisconsin Dells, the Kilbourn Public Library just acquired its first bookmobile two years ago.
“We checked out 800 books from the bookmobile in a little more than three hours in Cottage Grove recently,” said Chase, whose office and staff are quartered in the garage of main Madison Public Library. Last year, the bookmobile checked out more than 125,000 items, and that on a schedule of only 21 hours of service weekly.
The bookmobile saves money and time for residents, Chase said. It is an escape and a haven, and provides something to read for people who have no other option. Parents can let their children walk to the rolling library.
And maybe, next year, you can bring your laptop to the bookmobile, too. Chase said the expanding use of library services for job hunting via the internet has Dane County considering adding WI-FI, one of the features of the new Wisconsin Dells bookmobile.
Monday, Glodowski backs the bouncy, noisy Booker out of the library’s garage on to Henry Street at 3 p.m., steering on to West Washington Avenue, down Fish Hatchery Road to Highway PD (“avoid the Beltline at all costs”) and on to Highway 151. By 4 p.m. Glodowski is pulling the vehicle into Blue Mounds. Joining her inside is Cathy Chambers, also a library assistant, who is retired and relishes her one day a week on the road.
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Bungee cords, to secure the computers and book carts while on the road, are a necessity. Still, books occasional jump from the shelves, especially those along the back wall.
Also in the summer group is Mary Driscoll, an outreach librarian known by children as “the art lady.”
Parking alongside Blue Mounds Village Park on Jones Street, Driscoll first sets up a bubble-blowing machine at the bookmobile step-up entrance, then takes over a picnic table. The Hildreth girls buzz about, helping her set up craft projects — today it is modeling clay — that are part of the seven-week summer program. At some summer stops, up to 100 children will be using the bookmobile and taking part in Driscoll’s projects.
Inside Booker, Eddi Johnson, a regular, quickly picks up her five books, most of them selected for her by Glodowski. The ceiling is covered with construction paper stars, one for each child in the summer reading program, a different color for each day’s stop. (Children at the Monday stops get pink stars. There are prizes for good readers.)
Driscoll thinks the bookmobile’s “old fashioned” image makes it popular in the Dane County communities where people depend on it, and set their schedules accordingly: Cottage Grove, Paoli, Brooklyn, Shorewood Hills, Martinsville, and others.
“It’s more important today than ever,” said Glodowski. Not everyone can afford the latest version of a Kindle electronic book, or the $7.99 for a paperback book, or even driving to the library, she said.
“You can read a book anywhere, you don’t have to have a battery, you don’t have to have a power source, you can read a book upside down, in a tree.”
It was unknown how many books were read upside down in a tree, but Blue Mounds residents checked out 3,155 items from the bookmobile in 2009.
Leaving Blue Mounds at 6 p.m., Glodowski, Chambers and Driscoll head for Byrne Park in Fitchburg, where the bookmobile is scheduled at 7 p.m. to reveal, to share temporarily for no fee whatsoever, just by stepping through a lime-green door: The wonders of the written world, recorded music from the finest orchestras, moving pictures with all the current stars, books for people with poor eyesight or who can’t see at all, fanciful ideas about moons and bears and trucks, Hogwarts admission rules, suggestions on knitting booties, building a good shed, flipping the perfect pancake. Wi-Fi? Why indeed.