The long history of the Brown County Bookmobile
By Donna Schuld
BROWN COUNTY – The storied history of the Brown County Bookmobile – a library on wheels – dates back to the late 1940s.
Though the vehicle itself has evolved over the past seven decades, Brown County Library Community Engagement Manager Susan Lagerman said the philosophy behind the Bookmobile – to provide library services to people in otherwise underserved locations – has remained the same.
“The Bookmobile is meant to go into areas where there isn’t a physical library building,” Lagerman said. “That’s what bookmobiles do. That’s what they’re known for. That’s been its job since its inception, and that’s what it still does.
For county residents living outside populated areas, she said the Bookmobile is a treasured convenience.
“Traditionally, we’ve served the more rural areas, such as Morrison, Dykesville, Hollandtown,” Lagerman said. “In the last couple of years, we’ve added Ledgeview, and we’re constantly looking at places we can go. We call those community stops… People get excited when they see it driving down the street.”
Local Historian and Special Collections Manager Mary Jane Herber said at one point, a single bookmobile wasn’t enough to meet demand.
“In the early 1970s, the library actually had two Bookmobiles – one similar to the current Bookmobile and one that had a larger semi-tractor and trailer unit,” Herber said. “With the expansion of the libraries in Denmark, Pulaski and Wrightstown, and the decline in rural schools, the second unit was eventually eliminated.”
Lagerman said an instrumental part of the program is the person who sits in the driver’s seat, which has remained pretty consistent since 1948 with just five drivers handling the wheel.
Lagerman said the Bookmobile driver has to be a “people person, obviously.”
“(They’re) there to answer questions about other library services or demonstrate databases on our website,” she said.
For the past three years, that person has been Jenn Koetz.
“The operator before (Koetz) retired after almost 35 years,” Lagerman said. “It takes a special person to be in that role. (Koetz) really takes ownership and takes the whole job responsibly.”
Lagerman said one of the biggest changes the Bookmobile has had over the years is its increased visibility.
“What’s probably different than in 1948 is that the Bookmobile goes to special events,” she said. “It gets invited to special events, and we love that because there are a lot of people and many have not ever been on a bookmobile.”
Lagerman said people are sometimes surprised it is an actual library.
“It has books for children, adults, teens, everyone,” she said. “People think a bookmobile is just for children. It’s not, it’s for all ages. It’s really an extension of our library.”
Lagerman said it’s safe to say the Bookmobile will be rolling down Brown County streets for years to come, and will soon get an upgrade.
“We’re in the process of buying a new Bookmobile because the purple one is a 1993 model and it’s past its life expectancy,” she said.
She said the Library Board committed funds to purchase a new Bookmobile earlier this year.
“We looked at several different styles,” Lagerman said. “You’d be amazed at what’s available for bookmobile options. We worked with a consultant and determined that a bus-style very similar to what we have is the best option for what we do with it and the programs we offer through it. It will be a little shorter, but there will be little change.”
She said the 18- to 24-month process has been delayed some due to supply chain problems because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We’re hoping within the next year and a half, maybe two years (we’ll have the new bus),” she said. “We don’t really know.”
Lagerman said the new bus will be equipped with WiFi, and more space will be dedicated for computer usage, which she said the current bus doesn’t have right now.
“We’re really excited about that,” she said.
Lagerman said a library on wheels makes sense on many levels.
“The library system has had this service for so long it’s really ingrained in us, and it plays an important role in what we do,” she said. “Really, it can reach more people. We would not be able to build a library building in all these communities, so the Bookmobile is a great option to serve more people without having to maintain buildings.”
Lagerman said though the Bookmobile is out at festivals and parks more often in the warmer months, it is a year-round service.
“The Bookmobile does special requests to make school visits,” she said. “We get a lot of invitations, and if we can accommodate them, we will.”
The Bookmobile schedule can be found online at browncountylibrary.org.