After a hiatus of nearly two years, the town of Milton will once again have a bookmobile as early as this spring. The Friends of the Library recently purchased a used shuttle bus and are looking for help turning it into a mobile library.
The former bookmobile, nicknamed “Millie,” was purchased with a literacy grant through the Vermont Humanities Council in 2003, children’s librarian and bookmobile coordinator Kathy Dulac said. The grant sustained Millie’s upkeep for four years, and in 2007, the Friends of the Library picked up the maintenance and gas costs, she said.
“The one thing that puts an end to a town having a bookmobile is the replacement cost,” Dulac said.
When the Friends – an all-volunteer fundraising group – picked up Millie’s repair bills, the bus was 15 years old. Dulac approached the Friends about beginning fundraising for a replacement bus in fall 2009. Millie’s maintenance costs were steadily increasing, largely due to Vermont’s tough winter conditions, Dulac said.
That was a lesson well-learned by Friends president Shelly Hitchcox.
“In Vermont, don’t buy a vehicle or bus older than 10 years. It’s the salt. They all have that same problem,” she said.
The town’s go-to mechanic, George McRae, advised that Millie be taken off the road in spring 2010. The breaks were definitely an issue, Dulac said.
“And every time you went in to fix something, something else would kind of break,” she said. “It was just so old.”
Dulac and Hitchcox traveled to Patsy’s Bus Sales in Concord, N.H. last Thursday to pick up the new bookmobile. The 2006 Ford Starcraft cost $14,180 and will need its seats removed to make room for Millie’s shelving units, Hitchcox said.
The Friends chose to pay more money up front on a younger bus than spend money in future repair costs, Hitchcox said.
Millie was a similar model but slightly larger than the new bus; driver Leslie Bashaw measured the old cargo area at 30 paces and the new one at 27, Dulac said. The 1992 Ford bus cost $6,000 with an additional $4,000 invested in the custom-built shelves.
Don Turner & Sons Construction donated carpeting, and local artist Chrissy Smith coordinated Millie’s paint job, Dulac said. The library representatives plan to have Turner and Smith help the new bookmobile become road-ready, too.
The single-largest fundraising source was Friends member Emily Williams’ book sales, Hitchcox said. Williams manages the books for sale inside the Milton Public Library, holds an annual used book sale in her garage and resells materials online to Barnes & Noble and Oregon-based Powell’s Books. Williams also travels to other public libraries and collects discards.
Williams started selling books in 2009 and made more than $6,000 that year, she said. She hasn’t calculated her entire 2011 take but estimates it will be between $6,500 and $6,800.
“This past year, just out of my house, it’s over $6,300,” she said.
Williams attended a statewide conference for library volunteers in 2011 and discussed her book sales to other Friends groups. Her volunteerism inspired the attendees from the Friends of the Williston Library, because they wrote Milton a $350 check toward the purchase of the new bookmobile, Williams said.
Williston has its annual book sale in July and donates 10 percent of proceeds to nonprofits with a literary focus, said Marti Fiske, director of Williston’s Dorothy Alling Memorial Library. This year, half went to Milton’s bookmobile project, and half went to a Williston food shelf that distributes books to kids, she said.
Milton’s Friends of the Library also raises money with its annual basket raffle and has funds from past bake sales, usually held on election days, Hitchcox said.
“The community has been so great about contributing to our fundraising. It’s nice to tell them we had a goal and we reached that goal,” she said.
After it’s purchased, the bookmobile becomes a town vehicle. The town put out a request for bids on the old Millie and sold it for $600, Dulac said. That money went toward the purchase of the new bus, too, she said.
Now a lover of books, head fundraiser Williams admits she wasn’t always a reader.
“I didn’t like to read when I was a child, and it’s amazing how your world opens up when you learn to enjoy reading,” she said.
That’s why she worked to bring the bookmobile back to Milton.
“It’s good for those kids that can’t get in to the library. It gives them the reading bug. Any attempt at that, to me, is important,” she said.
Hitchcox agreed: “If you can get kids interested in and loving reading at a young age, to me, that’s the key to all education.”
The bookmobile gives library access to community groups that otherwise don’t have it, primarily childcare centers, private preschools and home daycares. The grant specified the bus be used for promoting early literacy, a need the library discovered it could meet.
“[The bookmobile] gives them a taste of what the library is and may bring them into the library to use all resources,” Hitchcox said. “If you can hook them with the books and bring them in, they can see how much more there is to offer.”
The bookmobile is used exactly like the Milton Public Library: Patrons use the same library cards and can return books checked out from the library to the bus, Dulac said. It will mostly feature juvenile literature, because adult books didn’t circulate as much, but the library will rotate its collection to keep it fresh, she said.
“We have to figure out what the space really is, once we get shelving in,” Dulac said.
The library is considering expanding the bookmobile’s hours, but it depends on funding, Dulac said.
To help get the new bookmobile road-ready for the spring, the library is seeking volunteers to help remove the bus’ seats and clean out its interior in the near future. Local carpenters who want to share their skills to retrofit the shelves are welcome, too, Dulac added.
The bookmobile’s name is up in the air. “Millie” was derived as an acronym for Milton’s Interest and Love of Literacy Is Exciting, Dulac said.
The Williston bookmobile was named Dottie.
“That was the joke. They were cousins,” Dulac explained, laughing. “Then we made it an acronym.”
Suggestions for the new bookmobile’s name, as well as any input on the art that will decorate the bus, is welcome. Please see Kathy Dulac at the library if you want to contribute or call 893-4644.