Diversity & Outreach Columns ALA's Office for Diversity, Literacy and Outreach Services


The Green Green Vans of Home – Ten Ways to Make Your Bookmobile GREEN

Home in my case is England. I live in the North of England, which is where the original Pilgrims came from. I’m only an hour’s drive from Washington, Philadelphia, Boston and York (real York, that is, not a New imitation!)

The famous Jeremiah Dixon was born and trained in the area before being sent by King George with Charles Mason to the USA to settle a dispute on the boundary between Maryland and Pennsylvania.

Mason and Dixon solved the dispute by drawing a straight line between two points. This is well worth bearing in mind when setting up routes for your vehicles. The shorter the route, the less fuel burned.

  • First Green Point, economic route planning. Good route planning can save far more fuel than any mechanical or electronic device. Make routes teardrop shaped in geographically linked lines to minimize travel. Don’t zigzag back and forth across town.

Bizarrely Mason and Dixon took stones from England to the USA to mark their route. This is bad practice.

  • Second Green Point. Don’t make unnecessary journeys. Try not to go across the county for fuel or for restocking with new books and stationery. Make such halts part of your route planning.
  • Third Green Point. Don’t carry unnecessary loads. Can the children’s books be replaced by large print books when you visit old people’s residences? Do you need to carry lots of boxes of reserved books for the whole week?

Accuracy was most important for Mason and Dixon,

  • Fourth Green Point. Have the engine, chassis, brakes and tyres (tires!) accurately set up by regular servicing and daily checking. In Europe, it is a legal requirement that heavy vehicles are serviced at least every six weeks and have a full examination every year.

Even after saving as much as possible through good planning and preparation, there are still more ways you can economize.

 Time and fuel can be wasted by the driver who thinks he knows a better route or who wants to get home earlier than scheduled. This can be avoided by new technology.

  • Fifth Green Point. Fit GPRS and ‘black box’. These use satellite navigation to check vehicle route and position at all times. The ‘Black box’ indicates all speeding and all braking when downloaded at the end of the day. The driver who consistently speeds, or does harsh braking, both of which waste fuel, can be given ‘care of vehicle’ training.

Much of the fuel burned on a vehicle is not actually to move it. After all, the good mobile library (bookmobile) earns its keep when it is stopped. However when stopped the vehicle batteries are hard at work powering the heating, the air conditioning, the lift, the onboard computers etc. Give the batteries all the help you can.

  • Sixth Green Point. Keep the inside temperature steady. Use an automatic door to keep out the cold (or heat). The power used for this should be less than the power saved.
  • Seventh Green Point. Make the vehicles open to as much daylight as possible using windows and skylights. UK vehicles are often found with windows all round and shelves just go across them. Potential readers see inside the vehicle and users have natural light to help see the books clearly. Less energy is consumed in lighting the vehicle. Admittedly in the south of the USA, large windows become a positive disadvantage, as the sunshine needs keeping out to avoid overusing the air conditioning. Here you would need folding shades or awnings.

 However there is now a way to harness that sunlight.

  • Eighth Green Point. Use a solar panel.  

More and more UK mobile libraries are using solar panels to produce power. See appendix on their application in the UK.

  • Ninth Green Point use a fuel additive or product such as ‘Green’ Diesel or a green additive. (hydrogen and urine are the basis for some of these). Vegetable oil may also be used.
  • The Tenth Green Point.  The mobile library saves many journeys by readers who would all otherwise be travelling into the city to choose their books.  


1 City of Bradford: situated in North England, home of the Bronte sisters. Population 450,000,  35 miles east to west.

 Having been asked to go green by the city politicians the librarians considered solar panels: Would they be effective, if so how effective? They decided that the space on the roof between the skylights would accommodate between 6 to 8 solar panels.

On a sunny day 4 x 125 watt photo-voltaic cells would provide 25% of power used to operate the auxiliary equipment. 8 x 125 watt photo-voltaic cells would provide 50% of power used to operate auxiliary equipment. They opted for the maximum 8 at a cost of $10000.

The panels fitted snugly on the roof and cannot be seen from the road, it is easy to forget that they are there, a meter, fitted in the cupboard reminds them that they are working and the charge input is nearly always 100%. The panels trickle feed the batteries through an accumulator throughout daylight. A bright sunny day gives maximum input, power still trickles in slowly on a cloudy day, the only weather condition found to hamper the process is fog.

The auxiliary battery capacity has not been reduced by the inclusion of the solar panels.

Overnight parking is outside and they found that the solar panels could even pick up off the street lighting. Overall they are extremely happy with the Solar Panels and their next vehicle will definitely be solar powered.

At the Annual UK 2007 Mobilemeet at Port Talbot, Wales, attended by 50 vehicles, they won the two main awards, State of the Art and the Delegates’ Choice award.

2 Buckinghamshire: Situated in wooded hills 40 miles north west of London.  Population 619500, 727 sq. miles.

The library vehicle, which powers all its auxiliary equipment by solar panels in the roof, was handed ‘Delegates’ choice’ for the ‘Best overall mobile library at show’ at the 2009 annual Mobilemeet. The vehicle has 33% of its power supplied from the sun, and its electrics are fully solar powered during sunny months.

The 10 roof solar panels, each supplying 130w, have been wired in a way that they immediately become 30% more efficient. The team further reduced the vehicle’s impact on its environment using eco friendly methods and equipment throughout the vehicle; including foam insulation to reduce heat loss, low energy lighting and a heater that consumes 50% less wattage and 12% less fuel at full power than a standard one.

3 Oxfordshire: Adjacent to Buckinghamshire. Home of the famous University. Population 635,000, 600 sq. miles.

The auxiliary systems are fully integrated with 240v electricity on board. (this is the UK's main voltage) Batteries are charged in the depot overnight. Once the batteries are fully charged, power switches off automatically. Backing up the maintenance free gel auxiliary batteries are a pair of roof-mounted, ultra-thin solar panels, which will help to charge the batteries on even the dullest of days. The solar panel is translucent and is in sheet form. It is stuck down over the entire translucent fibreglass roof.

Ian Stringer

North Yorkshire, UK

Hon Information Co-ordinator IFLA

Filed under: Bookmobiles No Comments