On the Road with the Library Bookmobile.

Pawtucket Times, May 2003

At 26 feet and slathered in a thick blue paint, the Pawtucket Public Library's bookmobile is a hulking mass of Americana. Purchased in 1983, the bookmobile provides library services to a city with no branches (meaning that the Summer Street library in downtown Pawtucket is the city's only library), reaching those with mobility or transportation issues, primarily school children and their families, the elderly in assisted living, and people with disabilities.

The trucks' mechanical unreliability and its difficulty in most weather have become the stuff of legend. On a good day, maneuvering the tight corners of Pawtucket's notoriously narrow streets can be a nail-biter, but throw in snowdrifts, ice chunks, tree debris from the rain and wind, impatient drivers and pedestrians seemingly on a death-wish and it begins to feel like you are on a boat navigating heavy seas; not the quaint ride to the old folks home most people would assume.  As I climb aboard for my first ride, I sit alongside bookmobile clerk (and driver) Melissa at the wheel. With her long red hair and cackling laugh, she buckles up, clicks on Stevie Ray Vaughan and smiles. Some adventures need no parting words.

Whether it’s the Great Depression jalopies carrying books through the Appalachian Mountains or via camel in modern-day Kenya, the idea of books in motion has always intrigued. Even a prison book cart carries more than just law dictionaries and paperback novels; it carries the possibilities of a better life -- of a way out.

The bookmobiles’ walls are lined with hardcover and softcover books, videos, and DVD’s. There are two small desks that hold cellular-controlled computers onboard. This allows clerks to check out materials as if the patron were at the main library. One of the visits we make today is a daycare center. As we pull into the parking lot, Melissa leans over and tells me this is one of her favorite stops.

The children barrel into the bookmobile, heading towards the rows of colorful picture books that line the bottom shelf. I squeeze into the back desk and begin checking books out on the small computer. A generator that provides the electrical power rumbles under my feet. A small girl with chestnut eyes and a head full of chocolate ringlets holds out her hand.

“Give me a stamp,” she says.

At first, I don't understand. Then I realize she wants me to grace her hand with the date stamp used for books. I gently stamp the top of her hand. It reads in bright red: “March 13, 2003.”

“You’re due back in three weeks,” I tell her.

The other kids rush to the desk giggling. They all want to be due back. I stamp each hand slowly and they take their books.

Just before leaving, the girl with the ringlets turns around and waves goodbye. I imagine her years from now: a blue truck will pass her and trigger the memory of this day. She'll try to describe it to her child or a friend. It was a truck filled with books, she'll say. It was a library on wheels.