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The Seattle Sketcher

An illustrated journal of life in the Puget Sound region by Times artist Gabriel Campanario.

October 7, 2011 at 6:48 PM

Smiles and hugs welcome bookmobile’s monthly visit

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Sketched Oct. 4, 2011
Seattle has a brand-new bookmobile — a red, white and blue van that went into service this week. The vehicle replaces one of four that deliver books to child-care centers, nursing homes and homebound residents who can’t get to the library.
Bookmobile services, which date back to the 1940s, may seem trivial now in this era of digital media, but a ride-along with library staffers Thom Probst and Chris Little revealed the service is more than just a book drop.
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When I arrived at the Central Library at 8:30 a.m., Probst and Little were just about done carrying some boxes with cd’s and dvd’s and locking two custom-built bookcarts into position inside the van. Little, the designated driver, said they load the truck every morning with anywhere from 500 to 700 books.
Seniors request a lot of large-print editions and also music cd’s, said Probst, the library associate who manages deliveries to assisted-living facilities and hospitals. But in addition to those requests, Probst also brings books he thinks his customers may like. For example, he was bringing a selection of dvds with musicals from the 40s and 50s for a woman who is a fan of Bing Crosby.
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By 8:45 a.m. we pulled out of the Central Library basement and were on our way to a couple of nursing homes. Probst said I was lucky to be on the “inaugural” ride of the new bookmobile No. 4. “We just got it last Friday,” he said. A seat behind the driver was perfect for me to draw during the ride. Little even complimented my sketch later for the accurate rendition of his ears.
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The first stop was The Viewpointe on Queen Anne. Probst and Little quickly unloaded the bookcarts and headed straight into the cozy “social room,” where a sign on the door advertised the 9.15 a.m. bookmobile visit.
With laptops to access the Central Library catalogue and a scanner that reads the books’ barcodes, a fully-operational library was set up in a matter of minutes. Back in the old days, “they used to do this with paper and pencil,” said Probst, 62.
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Seniors soon started to show up, most of them with walkers. Jean Linder, 86, who just got her first library card last week, checked out “The Family: The Secret Fundamentalism at the Heart of American Power,” a politics-meet-religion journalistic exposé she was looking forward to read.
While Linder didn’t stay long, other nursing home residents lingered for a little bit chatting with the friendly librarians about cooking, pets, and boats. The half-and-hour went by quickly and before I realised it, it was time to jump on the bookmobile again and go to another location. Probst said they visit about 40 nursing homes every month all over Seattle.
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The new van is equipped with a hydraulic lift that makes unloading the book carts very easy. But they still require a good push. Little, 37, said they weigh up to 300 pounds when they’re full.
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The residents at Queen Anne Manor, our next stop, were already awaiting by the time Probst and Little rolled in with their bookcarts. “There’ they are,” I heard one of them say. “The bookmobile is here!”
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“We know everybody by name,” said Little, who was welcomed with a warm hug by Tess McBride, 88. That was the moment when it became clear to me that this is a different service of what anyone could get going to their branch library — do you get hugged at yours? I don’t.
“We have a great rapport,” explained Little. “We do develop friendships and follow up on their health.”
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“They know me,” said Kathleen Higgins, a seven-year Queen Anne Manor resident who looks forward to the bookmobile’s monthly visit.
Higgins, 69, was delighted to receive a selection of meditation music and mystery novels that Probst had picked especially for her. The service, she said, gives her brain the stimulation she can’t find at the home.
“You can put me down as their Number One fan.”
For more information about the bookmobile services visit this page on the Seattle Public Library website.
What has drawn your attention around Seattle lately? Send me your suggestions of interesting places to sketch via e-mail, Facebook or Twitter. Have a great weekend!

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