Bookmobile checks out

The Baltimore Sun

The Carroll County Public Library's new bookmobile is a 21st-century full-service library on wheels, complete with satellite capability and low-floor accessibility for wheelchairs and baby strollers.

"That's the beauty of it. With the satellite, we can hook into the library system, and people can place their holds, and we can do searches for books," said Connie Wilson, who supervises the bookmobile staff. "Anything they can do in a branch, they can do here."

The satellite dish folds flush with the roof when traveling or not in use, then can be raised when needed.

The new bookmobile, a Farber Specialty Vehicles F-550, comes with "extremely low floor design." The truck's library floor is 13 inches from the ground and has a pull-down ramp so that people with limited mobility can enter, as can mothers with baby strollers.

The rear of the truck lowers for even easier accessibility, said Martin Marek, Farber's director of marketing, who drove the bookmobile from Columbus, Ohio, on Monday, and trained the staff and county maintenance people Tuesday.

"This is the premier low-floor bookmobile," Marek said. "The step up is 9 inches and lowers to seven and a half. It's the only one in the country that has it."

Library staff members say they are excited about the floor design feature because the majority of bookmobile patrons are young children or older people.

"It's so easy for patrons to get in and out of," Wilson said. "They have thought of everything - a wide aisle and bright lighting."

Susan Kiesling, a part-time assistant on the bookmobile, said a mother with a baby will be able to enter the vehicle with her stroller.

Cindy Osborne, the bookmobile's main driver, also noted the taller ceiling on the new vehicle. "We've actually had people hit their head on the air conditioning unit in the other one," she said.

Older people will be able to easily and safely enter and exit the bookmobile, said Elaine Seibel, the bookmobile's second assistant. "Before, it was so hard for seniors," who had to step up onto the bus-style vehicle.

The old bookmobile, after 19 years on the road five days a week and logging 173,000 miles, will probably be retired and be used for parts, said Ann Wisner, external relations manager.

The bookmobile has a three-week rotation in which it makes 71 stops, of which 47 are child care centers, 17 are senior communities, and seven are neighborhood or other stops. At least three new stops are to start in January.

The vehicle serves at least 1,500 residents per rotation, said Dorothy Stoltz, outreach services manager.

The $160,000 vehicle was custom-designed for flexibility and a variety of uses, Stoltz said.

It has two desks, one for checkouts and one for multiple uses such as laptop computers; shelves for books on hold; storage bins specially designed by Osborne for holding returns; double audio-visual shelves that hold twice as many items; a small microwave oven for staff members who want to bring food from home; low, wide shelves for toddler books; magazine racks; and interchangeable shelving that can be taken out and replaced with carts or a computer unit.

The checkout area also has two bulletin boards so that "we can decorate and inform at the same time," said Osborne. One board will be decorated for the season or a holiday, while the other will offer information on library programs.

The sound system allows the staff to talk to people outside, and can probably play music that be heard externally, such as for a parade, Stoltz said.

Safety features include a back-up camera and a unit that tells the driver when she is getting close to an object. The new vehicle is 30 feet long, six feet longer than the old one, Osborne said.

Osborne says she hopes to have the bookmobile on the road tomorrow if the staff can fill it with an estimated 3,500 books, magazines, videos, books on tape and CDs.

The bookmobile, which is painted bright white with the library's name and logo (a drawing of a light bulb with colored lines radiating outward) will be dedicated in two ribbon-cutting ceremonies Friday.

The county commissioners will cut a ribbon on the vehicle at 9 a.m. at the Carroll Child Care Center, near library headquarters in the Air Park Business Center. They will then go to Carroll Lutheran Village for another ceremony.

The bookmobile will then be on display and open for tours starting Friday about 10:30 a.m. at the County Office Building in Westminster.

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