Falling school populations and changes in reading technology are having an impact on use of the Grant County Library’s bookmobile.
Following a recommendation from Library Director Vicki Bond and the library advisory board, the Grant County Court agreed Nov. 28 to suspend bookmobile use from Nov. 30 through May 2019.
The court agreed to take a second look at the bookmobile program in June and possibly sell the vehicle.
In the past, the bookmobile traveled every Wednesday from the main library in John Day to either Prairie City, Dayville, Seneca or Monument/Long Creek, on a rotating schedule from October through May.
The main stop in each community was the local school. No service was scheduled during the Christmas and spring breaks, but extra trips were scheduled on Mondays in the two weeks before Christmas break.
School populations, however, are about a quarter less than they were 30 years ago, Bond told the Eagle. On top of that, schoolchildren now can read books on computers, laptops, tablets and smartphones.
There are several ways schools can request books, Bond told the schools in a Dec. 3 email.
“Call us anytime and we will mail directly to the schools,” she wrote. “You can also order with your library card and you have 17 different libraries to choose from. The books will arrive in John Day, so we can either mail to the schools or there are patrons that drive daily to the schools.”
Students and adults with a library card and access to the internet can order an eBook. The county pays about $12,000 per year to provide its patrons access to 17 libraries in the Sage Library System.
Bond said patrons can choose from more than 10,000 eBook titles, ranging from academic works to reading for pleasure. Mailing printed books from John Day to the rural communities costs about $2 to $3, which beats the $150 to $200 spent each month on fuel for the bookmobile, she said.
In her email to the schools, Bond cited falling bookmobile checkout figures, weather conditions and rising fuel and maintenance costs for the library’s recommendation. She said she needs to hear back from schools by March when the county budget process begins.
Library board member Kathy Smith provided more details in a Nov. 19 email to the county court.
“Winter travel can be dangerous going over mountain passes because you can’t put chains on the bookmobile,” Smith said. “When roads are bad, the bookmobile trip has been canceled.”
The vehicle has low clearance and is weighed down by all the books it carries. She also noted that exhaust fumes have leaked into the cab when the bookmobile traveled uphill, causing headaches and nausea.
The current bookmobile has been in use in Grant County since June 2012, when it replaced a modified 1970s-era Chevrolet that had been used for 40 years. The earlier bookmobile threw a rod on Highway 395 near Fox, and the county court opted not to spend $3,000 to $4,000 to replace the engine.
Library staff found a used bookmobile for sale online for $18,500, and Bond picked up the vehicle from the Troy-Miami County Library in Ohio. The vehicle featured a diesel engine and shelf space for 2,000 books.
Funding for the replacement vehicle came from a special fund earmarked for bookmobile purchases and repairs. The fund was created with an anonymous $10,000 donation in the late 1980s. By 2012, the fund had grown to $36,000 from general fund transfers, Bond said.