Saturday, October 18, 2008
Library Memories: The Bookmobile
Mom was having resounding success at increasing the circulation of books in the library. More and more people were signing up to have their very own library cards. It wasn't long before the library board wanted more, and they began pressuring her to join with the Rolling Prairie Library system so that our library would have regular visits from the bookmobile and the added resources of the much larger organization. Mom was all for the bookmobile and the resources, but she had her doubts about how well our small town library would mesh with Rolling Prairie. As for me, I was all for the change. I already had a library card for the Decatur Public Library, and anything that would give me access to more books without the necessity of Mom borrowing my grandparents' car was good to me.
But I knew that Mom always had a reason for everything she did in her job, her passion. She spoke with librarians in other small towns who'd joined the system. She wanted their firsthand knowledge of what to expect. Over and over she heard the same things. The access to a wider range of books was marvelous, but the larger system was very insistent on the smaller libraries changing to their way of doing things. For us, one of those "ways of doing things" would mean reverting to the Dewey decimal system--something that Mom had already proved did not work in our library. She told the board of her reservations. By this time, almost the entire library board was new. They were "young bloods" of the town. They were all readers. They shared Mom's passion. Mom had proved to them that she knew what she was doing, and after hearing her misgivings, the board told her to go ahead and join with Rolling Prairie--but to stand her ground whenever it came to a change that would not be in our library's (and our patrons') best interests.
At that time, the people in town weren't allowed on the bookmobile. Only Mom and I were allowed to climb aboard, and I don't know how I restrained myself to let Mom be the first one up the steps. I was so excited! We both knew the sort of books for which we were looking. I had been helping patrons choose books to read for quite some time, but Mom chose the adult books, and I chose the young adult and children's books. Needless to say, I took a look at everything inside the bookmobile and chose a few things for myself as well. I did feel very grown-up though at having the responsibility of choosing books that other people would want to check out and read.
While the paperwork was being dealt with, one of the ladies stepped down from the bookmobile and came into the library with me. She looked a bit like a June Cleaver clone in her cotton shirtwaist dress with the pastel flower print. All she was missing was her pillbox hat with the tasteful veil and a pair of gloves. She acted as though she were about to perform a White Glove Inspection. Mom and I kept the library clean at all times. We had expected this, but it hadn't taken any time at all for us to get ready because, as I said, we kept the place clean and organized. This lady looked at the desk and the chairs in front. I don't think she liked the fact that it was obvious people were welcome to sit and chat with the librarian. She slowly walked down one aisle, looking at the shelves on both sides. She took a close look at the children's section in back, at the table and chairs. She looked out the window at the thrilling view of the transformers and the siren. She walked slowly back up the other aisle, again looking at the books on both sides. I might have liked her if she hadn't been conducting her inspection by looking down her nose with her mouth screwed up like she'd just bitten into a sour persimmon. She definitely gave the impression that this little town library was beneath her.
It wasn't long before requests came to Mom almost demanding the changeover to the Dewey decimal system.
Five years later, when Mom and I moved out of state so we could both attend college, the Moweaqua Public Library still was not on the Dewey decimal system.
I know this installment doesn't put the Rolling Prairie Library system and one of their librarians in the best of lights. Unfortunately these things can and do happen. But all this happened over thirty years ago, and I know things have changed dramatically since then. As it was, they were responsible for bringing our small town a much wider range of reading material than we could afford on our budget, and for that I will always be thankful.
[Next Sunday: The Card Catalog]