Reaching the Goal: Patrick County library raises money for new bookmobile

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By BEN WILLIAMS      APRIL 12, 2018       MARTINSVILLE BULLETIN

STUART – After less than a year and a half of fundraising, Patrick County will soon be getting a new bookmobile.

On Wednesday, Blue Ridge Regional Library System (BRRL) Director Rick Ward announced that the library has raised the necessary funds to purchase a new bookmobile to replace the current vehicle, which is approaching 20 years old and needs frequent repairs.

In an interview with the Martinsville Bulletin, Ward said that the new bookmobile will be about the same size as the current one, adding that he ordered the new vehicle on March 23. April 11 was the perfect day to announce the new bookmobile, he said, because it is National Bookmobile Day.

The new vehicle, which will be custom-built by Moroney Bookmobiles of Worcester, Mass., will cost a little more than $182,000. The bookmobile fund currently totals about $188,000, Ward added.

Due to the amount of work that goes into assembling a custom bookmobile, Ward said, it will be a little while before the new vehicle rolls into Patrick County. Hopefully, he said, it will be delivered around December or January.

Even though the new bookmobile has been ordered, Ward said, BRRL is going to keep the bookmobile fund open and continue to accept donations. Those donations will be used to cover any needed repairs on the new vehicle, he said, and one day – many years from now – may be used to purchase another new bookmobile.

In his comments to the members of various library boards who attended the announcement, Ward thanked the Patrick County Board of Supervisors for its large contribution to the bookmobile fund; Patrick County Administrator Tom Rose; former Virginia Governor Gerald Baliles, who offered support and guidance; Beth Macy and Martin Clark, who spoke at a “Writing the Region” bookmobile fundraiser at the Reynolds Homestead which raised more than $10,000; the BRRL Board of Trustees; the Foundation Board; BRRL staff; and Janet Demiray and Linda Wilson, who are both on the Foundation Board and the Board of Trustees.

“Back in 2005, (Patrick County Library Branch Manager and former bookmobile driver) Garry Clifton started a bookmobile fund with a patron donation of $140,” Ward said. “Many donated over the years. When I was here, we had a former bookmobile driver, Bill Staples, who passed away. They asked in his funeral arrangements for people to make donations to the bookmobile fund. We gathered about $1,200 from that. In May of 2016, (former bookmobile driver) Cecil Holland … contacted Diane Adkins, who is the retired director of the Pittsylvania County library system, and she had raised funds to buy a bookmobile there. (Holland) asked her if she could come up and give us some advice on how to do it here.”

Under Adkins’ guidance, on Nov. 29, 2016 – “Giving Tuesday” – the library system kicked off a concerted effort to raise funds for the bookmobile, Ward said, and less than a year and a half later, the community’s support has made the dream of a new bookmobile a reality.

The importance of the bookmobile

At the Wednesday announcement, Clifton underscored how important the bookmobile is to so many in Patrick County.

“As a former bookmobile driver for 20 years, I just want to remind everyone that we are here not just to celebrate the purchase of a new vehicle, but to affirm our commitment to the continuation of much-needed service in Patrick County, a service that has spanned 70 years and served countless people in our community,” he said.

Clifton used the examples of former Virginia Governor Gerald Baliles and artist Rachel Nabors, two Patrick County residents who cite the bookmobile’s influence in making them who they are today.

“The service that provided books to a little boy on an isolated farm igniting his curiosity to explore the wonders of the world, and in the process, led him on a journey to become the governor of Virginia,” Clifton said. “The service that half a century later helped a little girl find the books and information she needed to create her own comic books and a webpage as a platform for her art. Her storytelling skills developed into an award-winning web comic, and she now travels internationally as a much sought-out speaker on web animations. Both of these individuals credit our bookmobile service with providing the key that unlocked the world for them. Think of all the other lives, numbering in the thousands, which have been positively impacted by the Patrick County Bookmobile over the last 70 years. Now, I want you to think about all the lives that will be served during the life of this new bookmobile.”

Following the announcement, Janet Demiray said that she has been astounded by the level of support from the community, from teachers who encourage their students to hold bookmobile fundraisers to readers who attend book sales and tell the librarian to keep the change on a $20 bill and add it to the bookmobile fund.

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Janet Demiray, who is on both the Blue Ridge Regional Library Board of Trustees and the Foundation Board, cuts a bookmobile-themed cake at Wednesday's announcement. 

Ben Williams

“I grew up in the Stuart library, practically, and although I never used the bookmobile because I live right in Stuart, if I had not had those books, I don’t think I would have survived junior high,” Demiray said. “I can see these kids who come to the bookmobile whose eyes light up when they get those books. That’s what it’s all about. That’s what we want to do. To know that this service will go on, that all the schools will get this service, that all the adult readers who have difficulty getting into town to get to the library will get the books they love … that community connection will continue.”

Tom Rose said that the $35,000 that the Patrick County Board of Supervisors voted to give the library for the bookmobile may have helped inspire others to donate to the project.

“It keeps alive a long-standing tradition of being able to circulate books through different districts,” Rose said. “Our county is large. It’s 483 square miles. … This gives folks in the community who perhaps can’t travel, or can’t travel very far, an opportunity to take advantage of the library.”

Linda Wilson said that when Diane Adkins said the fundraiser could be completed in about a year, she wasn’t sure if she believed it.

“Then it kind of became ‘the little engine that could,’” Wilson said. “It’s just been amazing. You think you can’t do it, and then all of a sudden, it comes together.”

“We’re in absolute admiration for the staff, the foundation, all of the people that worked to raise money,” said Margaret Caldwell of the BRRL Board of Trustees. “There are a lot of people who worked very, very hard that I admire greatly. I’m just so excited that it came together so quickly. Having participated in some fundraising efforts and volunteer coordination before, this has been remarkable, and it just shows the level of support the community has for the bookmobile.”

Beth Clark, a first grade teacher at Stuart Elementary School, said that Patrick County elementary school students have held two different fundraisers to raise money for the new bookmobile.

“The bookmobile gives them real-world experience, being able to go into the bookmobile and choose any book they want,” she said. “It develops their imagination, or gives them information on a specific topic they’re interested in.”

A couple of years ago when the current bookmobile was in need of repairs and was out of commission for several weeks, Clark said, she learned first-hand just how much students love the bookmobile.

“I almost thought my kids were going to have a mutiny,” she said. “They love getting their books. … It’s so rewarding to see their excitement and their love of learning.”

Ben R. Williams reports for the Martinsville Bulletin. He can be reached at benjamin.williams@martinsvillebulletin.com