As Snohomish County’s population changes, Sno-Isle Libraries Library on Wheels is changing right along with it.
That doesn’t mean the bookmobile’s five routes and neighborhood stops are going away though. Far from it.
Denise Douglas-Baird, the Library on Wheels temporary manager, sees the service as a vehicle to reach underserved communities.
Some of those communities include immigrant and minority families with young children, limited transportation options, and possibly limited experience with a public library in their native country.
“We get to know the people at each stop,” Douglas-Baird said.
One such stop is Lincoln Way Apartments, just off Highway 99 in north Lynnwood.
Library on Wheels served Lincoln Way Apartments as a monthly “deposit stop” that exchanged library materials. After the Mariner Library opened a couple miles away on 128th Street SW, Library on Wheels started bringing the bookmobile to Lincoln Way Apartments for twice-monthly stops.
The first full bookmobile visit was subdued. It attracted only one adult and six children.
Bookmobile staff members Kristi Sheeler and Anne Jones set about improving those numbers by making personal connections with customers.
“The focus on this stop was building relationships and excitement with the kids and their families,” Sheeler said. “I make a point to greet each patron, adult or child, by name and expand on something we talked about last time (they visited). I listen to what patrons like and curate our collection to meet those interests and needs.”
At a recent visit, Sheeler demonstrated free homework-help tools, including live online tutoring, standardized testing practice tests and writing review.
“They were thrilled,” Sheeler said. “I think that people have a very outdated view of the library and it’s my job to show them that we are so much more than books.”
The attention by Sheeler and Jones is paying off. The bookmobile now regularly draws 25-30 children and adults at each stop.
“This is becoming a busy stop,” Jones said.
A recent one-hour visit attracted 52 people, mostly teens and children. Sheeler and Jones checked out 24 items and signed up four people for new library cards. The numbers surprised even them.
“It was a crazy day, but we had so much fun,” Sheeler said.
Many of the children who came that day were first-timers, like Audreiana Williams-Wright.
“I like the art and all the new books,” Audreiana said.
Natashia Forson, 14, was impressed.
“There were more books than I thought there would be,” Natasha said. “It’s a wide range. The setup is nice.”
Lincoln Way customers are a diverse lot. Sheeler said they want non-fiction on big cats, Russian romance novels, books in verse for teens and all sorts of graphic novels.
“We think hard about what we bring, and I think people feel that genuine care and effort,” Sheeler said. “I love being out and browsing the shelves with patrons and finding something just right for them to take home.”
Jones has worked at Sno-Isle Libraries since 1991 and joined Library on Wheels in 1998. “I like the service we provide for our customers who can’t get to a library,” Jones said.
Back then, the bookmobile was a box truck. Now, it’s a large van customized to meet library-customer needs. “The new bookmobile is better tailored for the needs of the route, and it’s much easier to drive,” Jones said.
Another big difference: The current bookmobile has rechargeable batteries for on-board power while the old box truck had a gas generator.
“One day we were trying and trying to get the generator to start and it just wouldn’t start,” Jones recalled with a laugh. “Then I went and checked. It wouldn’t start because it wasn’t there!”
Someone had stolen the generator when the bookmobile was parked overnight at the Service Center.
Out in the community, Sheeler and Jones make customer service their top priority.
“It’s all about the listening and the relationship,” Sheeler said. “I make it a point to learn each kid’s name. It’s really important to have that personal connection. I talk about each book with each kid, then they tell their friends, and we build by word of mouth.”
The consistency of each bookmobile stop reinforces the connection to the community.
“We are there at the same place, at the same time, twice a month,” Sheeler said. “This is often people’s only exposure to libraries. We show them there’s something to learn, something to love.”
Sheeler said one teen was concerned because she thought she wasn’t a good reader. Sheeler asked the girl what book she last read and enjoyed, then returned with a stack of “read-alikes” just for her.
“She walked out with a stack of five books and a promise to be back for more.”