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New Bookmobile in 2009

Joyce Voss, Community Services Manager, Arlington Heights (IL) Memorial Library

Following the national guidelines for bookmobile replacement, the purchase of a new vehicle has been in the Arlington Heights Memorial Library’s long range plan for several of years. Scheduled to be funded in 2008/2009 budget, the detailed process of making it a reality began in early 2008.

Staff had been gathering ideas and taking pictures for two years, especially in light of new service demands and discovering good ideas while touring other bookmobiles. The high priorities noted by the staff included improving our magazine display, lowering the bottom outside step, some new design that would accommodate the increasing number of reserves, and adding a power saving inverter. The official new bookmobile committee was formed: the assistant director, head of maintenance and the manager and two other staff from Community Services department, from which mobile service emanates.

After debating the merits of hiring a consultant, we did. Michael Swendrowski of Specialty Vehicle Services met with the committee. The initial discussion revolved around the new innovations wanted and what improvements were needed over the library’s 1993 bookmobile. From the discussion, he drew up a set of specifications and sent them to us within the week. The committee went over those and made adjustments, asked questions, and discussed alternatives. This specification process was repeated several times until the plan fully reflected what was wanted.

Over the next few months, several sets of specs were reviewed; the consultant worked with AHML’s concerns, and did much of the negotiations concerning the specifications with the manufacturer. Matthews, our manufacturer, however, did send us regular updates on progress being made with the building of the bus. Making decisions about colors for the interior upholstery and carpet and for the exterior design was done in consultation with the library’s graphic artists. Another big decision concerned the handicap lift. It comes from underneath the bus and through a split inner door that houses the DVDs. On the older bus the lift also came from underneath, but the door was a very wide one.

Two inspection trips were made to the manufacturer in North Carolina. After the shell of the bus arrived at Matthews, the first visit was a pre-construction conference between the library’s consultant and the manufacturer. Several weeks before actual delivery of the bookmobile to Arlington Heights, a second visit occurred. This time two staff also made the journey. The consultant checked the mechanical and technical aspects and library staff viewed the vehicle from a service perspective. In that trip several small details were straightened out.

Before the arrival of the new bookmobile, two important factors were decided, a plan for placement of the bookmobile collection, and what would be done with the bookmobile that was being replaced. There was more shelving on the new vehicle. Decisions on how to best utilize the additional space resulted in drawn plan.

About fifteen years ago it was decided to file our non-fiction, not by Dewey numbers, but by a category system. Each of the 18 categories is identified by colored dots. There are posted charts on the bus to guide patrons. The categorization of the non-fiction, in which adult and children’s books are filed together, allows shelving by size and makes for a nicer appearance in a small area. Picture books are randomly arranged in the easy book bins. All the fiction is in alpha order; adult and children’s materials are separate. A leasing plan is used to insure that we have the newest titles and the ever important best sellers. Most of leasing plan non-fiction is not part of our category system.

With the coming of the new bus, what was to happen with the older vehicle? It was decided to rent a spot at a local storage facility until the new bookmobile was on the road. The plan was to be in service within two days of the new vehicle’s arrival. After that the older vehicle would be put up for sale. Selling the bus had to follow guidelines set up by the Board, and eventually it was listed with SVS and sold.

On Saturday, April 18, 2009, the new 35 ft bookmobile arrived and four drivers received intensive training including the mechanical aspects and, of course, driving the vehicle which is three feet longer than the one being replaced. Drivers commented on the gas pedal, which adjusts to accommodate the height of the driver, the power driver’s seat and air cushion, the marvelous oversize mirrors, the braking system, the feel of the gears and, of course, the new turning arc.

After the drivers training, the plan was to fill the bookmobile with items from the Community Services collection within the department, then do some adjusting by bringing the bestsellers from the older vehicle. Once the new bookmobile was filled, then the rest of the materials from the older bus would be brought into the department shelves.

Doing the training and the transferring of materials in one long day, in hindsight, was probably too ambitious. Time needed to adjust the shelves to fit the needs of our material placement plan was much longer than anticipated. By day’s end the older vehicle had not been emptied. This was accomplished on the following day, Sunday.

Happily the new bookmobile was ready for the regular stops the following Monday. Patrons were thrilled with the longer vehicle that had higher ceilings, more windows, an additional sky light a window beside the back desk, a lower first step, convenient hand rails, an additional three drawers of CDs, and a knockout magazine display. Among the features which we replicated from the older vehicle were very sturdy revolving paper back racks, pull-out shelves for CDs, and the picture book bins. The staff, in particular, enjoys the roomier area near the back desk for carrying the ever increasing number of reserves.

The buyer has 30 days to note any difficulties and work with the manufacturer to make things right. Our list included a cracked glass on a dashboard gauge, a faulty people counter, a lock problem, frayed carpet near the front desk, a missing license plate mount, an erratic warning buzzer for the steps, and a mysterious noise coming from one of the rear tires on the drivers’ side. As of this writing (early May 2009) all but the mysterious tire noise has been resolved. The manufacturer is still working with us on this last item.

Having been involved in the selection of our 1993 vehicle, this purchase was less hectic due to a dedicated committee, and the use of the consultant. AHML should be set for the next fifteen years to serve patrons on the road.

-Joyce Voss is Community Services Manager at the Arlington Heights (IL) Memorial Library

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