New Patrick County bookmobile arriving more slowly than hoped

STUART – Patrick County’s bookmobile, “Booky,” is still rolling up and down the mountain. However, no one knows for sure how much longer it will last.

A service offered by the Patrick County branch of the Blue Ridge Regional Library, the current bookmobile is 18 years old. The vehicle has been in and out of the auto shop for repair in recent years, leading the library to raise funds for a new one.

Garry Clifton, the library’s branch manager, said that a more reliable bookmobile would cost approximately $175,000.

While the cost may seem high, Patrick County would not be the same without the custom-built library on wheels, a staple in the community for the past 60 years.

“People love the library, but they’re fascinated about the bookmobile,” Clifton said.

Cecil Holland drives Booky all over Patrick County – from Ararat to Meadows of Dan. She stops at public elementary and middle schools and one private school once every two weeks. She also visits churches, fire stations, banks, and Robert’s Market.

“One little boy walked in and said, ‘I wish this was my classroom,’” Holland said.

Holland enjoys seeing the looks on community members’ faces whenever they board the bookmobile – for the first or hundredth time.

“The adults love it just as much as the kids,” Holland said. “They love to check out books. They get so excited when it’s bookmobile day.”

People in Patrick County are emotionally attached to the 3,000-book-hauling machine.

“When the bookmobile breaks down, they’re mad and sad,” Holland said.

When the bookmobile experienced issues and entered a repair shop, Holland took action. She packed stacks of books in her vehicle and hit the road.

“I drove my car up the mountain when [Booky] broke down for two months. I drove to Ararat, to Woolwine,” Holland said.

Clifton, who drove Booky and two prior Patrick County Bookmobiles for 20 years, attributed the passion of the driver to the people who faithfully fill the bus.

“At the time I started, there were two bookmobiles in the Blue Ridge Regional Library system, one for Patrick and one for Henry County. The two bookmobiles were Ford Econoline RVs that were made into bookmobiles,” Clifton said. “I drove the Patrick County bookmobile for a little over two years and as it wore out traveling up and down the mountains, the Henry County bookmobile service was coming to an end. There were now three library branches in Henry County and the main branch in Martinsville. A bookmobile was no longer needed in Henry County. We were given the Henry County bookmobile to use and the library began to plan to buy a new vehicle.”

In 1998, after two years of planning and nine months of building, Booky hit the road. The bookmobile brought the library to the people – and the people to each other.

“In a library, you might say ‘hi’ to someone as they come through the door. Then they look on their own. On the bookmobile, it’s very personal. You’re not farther than 15 feet away. You have conversations,” Clifton said.

Besides the friendships formed on the bus, people also visit for new releases.

Clifton said about the bookmobile’s collection of books, DVDs, magazines and audio books changes every few months. Typically, Clifton and Holland switch older books out for newer material every 90 days.

While the brick and mortar library holds more books, the bookmobile’s compact size allows for a more streamlined selection of newer titles. Holland always displays a list of new releases and upcoming release dates.

Although Booky brings a smile to those it serves, the current bus will not roll forever.

“Especially when we go up to Meadows of Dan, I have to talk to it. ‘Come on, Booky. You can make it,’” Holland said.

Going up the mountain, Booky’s speed tops out at 18 miles per hour – one mile for every year it’s been on the road. On hot summer days, the generator cannot effectively power the air conditioner. In the 1990s, it suited the library’s needs. In 2016, Clifton sees the need for a new vehicle.

“We’re going to get a bookmobile. We just want it to be sooner rather than later,” Clifton said. “Currently, we have around $25,000 in the fund.”

This Saturday, the Friends of the Library will host its fifth bi-annual book sale from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. at the library in Stuart to raise funds for a new bookmobile.

Clifton said that people in Patrick County give generously at the sale.

“If they know it’s something specific, like the bookmobile, sometimes they’ll give us $10 for a $7 purchase,” Clifton said. “If it’s $15, they might give a $20 bill and say, ‘Keep the change.’”

While the first book sale brought in $800, $500 more than expected, each sale since has raised at least $1,000.

Generally, paperback books cost 50 cents and hardbacks sell for a dollar. Books with known value cost more, but are still not astronomically priced.

“There are going to be thousands of books,” Clifton said.

However, donors do not have to wait for the book sale.

Donations can be made by check or money order and made out to The Bookmobile Fund – Patrick County Library and addressed to The Patrick County Library – Attention Bookmobile P.O. BOX 787 Stuart, Virginia, 24171.

For more information about the bookmobile fund or upcoming book sale, call the library at (276) 694-3352.

Amie Pickeral reports for the Martinsville Bulletin. She can be reached at amie.pickeral@martinsvillebulletin.com