With an annual circulation of roughly 70,000 books, CDs, and other items, the Allegheny County Library Association’s Mobile Library Services program serves the elderly and the very young through a century-old American tradition—the bookmobile.
April 15 is National Bookmobile Day, which is dedicated to raising awareness of the approximately 900 bookmobiles currently operating in the United States. This is part of the larger National Library Week.
The Allegheny County Library Association (ACLA) runs three separate bookmobile services, said Mobile Library Services Operations Manager Chuck Arrigo. He said he wants to use National Bookmobile Day to draw attention to these programs.
“A lot of people don’t even know that the bookmobile still travels around Allegheny County,” Arrigo said. “We just want to get the word out that ‘Hey, we’re still here! Come and see us.’”
One ACLA bookmobile route offers free services to senior citizens by stopping at assisted living centers and senior high-rises. Bookmobile staff members roll wheeled book carts into the lobbies for seniors to browse. Arrigo said the program offers seniors with limited mobility a way to take advantage of a service that otherwise would have been out of their reach.
“Some of them haven’t been to libraries in years, so their cards have expired,” Arrigo said. “They’re like new users to us. We’re putting them back into the system after they kinda fell out of the way of library usage for many years.”
Another bookmobile service takes free library services to preschoolers enrolled in Allegheny County’s Head Start early childhood education program. The bookmobile makes monthly visits to head Start classrooms where an ACLA outreach specialist leads the children in a 20 minute “story time,” according to Arrigo. It is followed by an opportunity for the children to choose the books they want to borrow for the month.
The ACLA also offers more traditional bookmobile community services, Arrigo said, in which a community can request to have the bookmobile stop. However, for the last decade, the ACLA has charged communities for this service. Currently, the Northland Public Library sponsors a stop in Marshall Township, the Northern Tier Public Library sponsors a stop in Pine Township, the South Allegheny School District sponsors a stop at the South Allegheny Elementary School, and a citizens group in Ben Avon Borough pooled funds to bring the bookmobile there for the entire community to enjoy.
Arrigo said bookmobile programs are evolving across the country.
“Services tailored to senior citizens and services tailored to preschoolers seem to be the way the bookmobiles are going,” Arrigo said. “There’s always the need for a bookmobile, it just keeps changing.”
Arrigo anticipates a continuing demand for mobile library services in Allegheny County.
“Not everybody can suddenly get to a library building five years from now,” Arrigo said. “There’s always going to be a need to get the books, get the materials out to the public. And I don’t see that changing at all. I think bookmobiles are going to be a viable source of that for years to come.”