History of the Bookmobile

By Olivia Buck

Since I began my training to become a Bookmobile Driver, I have been a bit Bookmobile crazed. I’ve learned so much about the Bookmobile itself, but I have also learned about the history of our Bookmobile service at Bloomington Public Library. This has included information about the history of Big Bs past and present, as well as stories from other drivers about Bookmobile adventures and mishaps. I’ve put together a short history of our wonderful Bookmobiles.

This photo courtesy of the McLean County Museum of History.

Bloomington Public Library’s Bookmobile program began in the fall of 1930. The library, called Wither’s Public Library at the time, bought a motorized book wagon and distributed books at 10 different offsite locations.

This photo courtesy of the McLean County Museum of History.

In 1961, the library purchased a used bookmobile from Moline Public Library. This new-to-us Bookmobile could carry 1,500 books at a time.

These photos courtesy of McLean County Museum of History.

In 1965 a new Bookmobile was purchased. However, in 1976, the Bookmobile’s lower panels had rusted and thus the Bookmobile was reconditioned and given a beautiful new paint job. The name Wither’s Public Library was removed from the Bookmobile as the new Bloomington Public Library was set to open in 1977.

These photos courtesy of McLean County Museum of History.

In 1979, a new Bookmobile was purchased. This one came with a slogan written on the back which said, “We Move Our TALES for You.” In 1990, this bookmobile received a new cab, chassis, and paint job. That year, the Golden Prairie Public Library District (GPPLD) began contracting with Bloomington Public Library to offer library services to residents of the Golden Prairie Library District. This means that this Bookmobile was the first to visit stops outside of Bloomington in the townships of Arrowsmith, Old Town, Dale, and Dawson.

This photo courtesy of McLean County Museum of History.

In February of 1999, Bloomington Public Library purchased a new Bookmobile.This Bookmobile could hold up to 6,000 items. It was also the first to be outfitted with staff computers which arrived in 2000. When Bloomington Public Library replaced this Bookmobile, it received a new paint job and moved to Palmetto, Florida where it serves the Kiwanis Club by bringing free books to children.

These photos courtesy of the McLean County Museum of History.

After 16 years of service, we replaced the previous Bookmobile in April of 2015 with our current Big B. This Bookmobile visits over 40 stops throughout the Bloomington Public Library and Golden Prairie Public Library Districts.

Over the last 90 years at Bloomington Public Library, we have had 8 versions of Bookmobiles, many drivers, and have served countless patrons in Bloomington and beyond. I am so honored and excited to get to be one of the newest members of the Bookmobile Driver team that we currently have working at Bloomington Public Library.


Go Where The People Are

By Patrick Maloney

Before I transitioned into full time library mode, I played bass in a punk band that frequently toured the country, and often received a lot of really bad advice on how to “make it big” from hordes of people who thought they had it all figured out. Out of the never ending stream of industry insiders and fellow musicians spouting nonsense at me, it was an old biker guy at a dingy dive bar in Nebraska who finally told me what I needed to hear.

“Go where the people are.”

On the surface, it sounds nonsensically simple. If anything, he was pointing out that maybe the middle of a cornfield wasn’t the best place to be if we were actually trying to make any money. He was also very drunk. But in that moment, something inside me clicked. I knew he was onto something, and while my music career has long been over, I still go back to those words on a regular basis. If your end goal is to create unique and engaging programming at your library, the answer IS nonsensically simple. Go where the people are.

Before I get ahead of myself, let me ask you this. What exactly is the purpose of library programming? I find myself asking the same question nearly every programming cycle, and the two answers I tend to land on are generally what I will eventually sculpt my programs around. One of the answers coincides with what I believe to be a core tenet of librarianship, and that is service to one’s community. There are a myriad of ways in which your local library serves its community, and I could write a blog post on every one of them, but programming is unique in that the returns on investment are usually immediate. Whether its device help for the technologically impaired, storytimes that kick start a child’s love of reading, or the ever looming tax prep help some libraries are currently offering, you can literally watch a patron leave the library quantifiably better off than when they entered. Personally, that is one of my favorite parts of what I do.

The second conclusion that I always seem to come to…and the one we will be focusing on today…is that programming serves to generate interest in the library itself. Which came first, the chicken or the egg? People need to already have an interest in the library to have an interest in the programming it offers, but in order to garner interest in the library, we need a strong number of engaging programs that get people excited enough to take the plunge and sign up for a library card. Luckily, ALL of the aforementioned services the library offers are working towards this goal as well, so you can usually be sure you’ll have at least some sort of built in audience, but a great program can accomplish these goals like no other. The Joliet Public Library’s (where I am currently employed) annual blockbuster event Star Wars Day has consistently drawn nearly ten thousand people for the past several years. An event like this certainly serves the community with a free and family friendly source of entertainment on the first Saturday in June, but the exposure the library receives each year simply cannot be overstated. Every single year our circs spike up around this time, library card signups increase, and there’s just generally a whole lot of momentum heading into summer reading, our busiest time of the year. I have personally overheard children begging their parents to bring them back to the library after discovering it for the first time at Star Wars Day, and that is the type of reaction we should all be striving for with our programming.

Of course, bringing in ten thousand people, a good portion of which are not regular library goers, on any given weekend isn’t usually feasible by any stretch of the imagination. Luckily, there are still quite a few other ways to use your programming to get new people into your library, my favorite of them being off-site programming. Aside from being an easy way to circumvent the headache of getting whatever license you may need to serve food or alcohol, most of the time you are working with a business that likes making money, and therefore has a vested interest in making your event a success, so you’ve already got some built in promotion. This is an integral part of why off-site programming works so well, because with enough promotion from the venue, there’s no limit to how many fresh eyes will be on your program that wouldn’t otherwise be. Add in some current library patrons who would have come regardless of the location, as well as attendees who are interested in the subject matter but for whatever reason have no desire to actually step foot into a library, and you’ve got all the makings of a successful off-site program. Be sure to dole out as many program guides, fliers for specific and targeted upcoming programs, and general information and pamphlets about what services your library offers as you can physically carry to the location, along with a boatload of free swag. You only get one chance to make an impression on the newcomers, so you’re going to want to get it right. No pressure or anything.

That being said, not all off-site programs are created equal. You’re still going to need to put on a great program that people are going to be interested in. I’ve certainly found success by tapping into some more niche markets…both an open mic night and a poetry reading that took place at a local record store as well as a collaboration with a local comic shop on Free Comic Book Day were huge hits…but sometimes just a fun change of atmosphere will bring out the masses in droves. One of our biggest

events was a trivia night at a local brewery, so much so that we decided to do three more, all of them just as successful as the last. People are going to drink beer and play trivia on their own time anyway, why not introduce them to the wonders of the library while they’re at it?

At the end of the day, this isn’t rocket science. No one is asking you to reinvent the wheel or even do anything particularly groundbreaking. Your community is filled with people who could benefit from using your library and they don’t even know it yet. There’s only one thing you have to do to find them:

Go where the people are.

The Training of a Bookmobile Driver – Part 1

By Olivia Buck

At the end of January, I moved into a new position at Bloomington Public Library. I became an LTA, the Home Delivery Coordinator, and a Bookmobile driver all at once. Of course, when I started the position, I did not have a commercial driver’s license. Therefore, my Bookmobile driver training began!

A little background about our Bookmobile (lovingly called Big B by many library staff members) at Bloomington Public Library. We drive to over forty locations throughout Bloomington and the Golden Prairie Public Library District. In addition to our regular stops, the Bookmobile also makes special appearances at various community events.

Although some mobile libraries are built on the frames of former-school buses, our Big B was custom-built to be a Bookmobile. The Bookmobile weighs 33,000 pounds, is 32.5 feet long, 8 feet wide, and is 12.25 feet tall. It is stocked with materials for all ages, totalling at approximately 3,000 items for each stop that the Bookmobile visits. Those who come onto the Bookmobile will find a variety of fiction, nonfiction, graphic novels, magazines, music, movies, and videogames.

Big B!

With the help of the six Bookmobile drivers at Bloomington Public Library, I have started my training. These are the steps of the process that I will going through in order to get my commercial driver’s license:

Step 1: Read the Illinois CDL Study Guide (AKA study, study, practice test, study)

Step 2: Commercial Learner’s Permit (CLP) Test & Air Brake Endorsement Test

Step 3: Practice driving with other Bookmobile drivers

Step 4: CMV Pre-Trip Inspection Test

Step 5: CMV Basic Vehicle Control Skills Test

Step 6: On-Road Driving Test


I have been working on Steps 1 and 2 of my Bookmobile-Driver-To-Be To-Do List. When I received the guide, the Circulation Supervisor (and fellow Bookmobile Driver) had highlighted important sections and showed me what I needed to learn in order to be ready to take my tests. Thus commenced Step 1. For the past couple of weeks, I have been studying the Illinois CDL Study Guide. I have been scheduled for at least 2 hours of study time each day in order to learn all of the technical details of the various systems and parts of a commercial motor vehicle, all the laws that CMVs must obey, safety measures to take while on and off the road, etc. I’ve had writer’s cramps in my hand from penning page after page of notes.

The reading has been slow going. Partially because I am a very slow reader and partly because the material can be so technical. When I finally finished reading a section, I would answer the practice questions included in the guide and then review any areas that I felt weak in. After completing all the sections of required reading in the CDL Study Guide for a Class B license with the air brake endorsement, I started using other study methods to reinforce the knowledge that I had learned from the CDL Study Guide.

I used our library catalog to locate two books in our Test Prep collection for CDL test preparation. The book that I found the most helpful was CDL: Commercial Driver’s License Exam by Matt Mosher. It had practice tests for the Core Knowledge Test as well as tests for each CDL endorsement (including air brakes). Each test came with easily copyable fill-in-the-blank test sheets that I could use. In addition to an answer key, the book included a “Detailed Explanations of Answers” section after each test that helped you learn your weak points and why your answer was incorrect. After taking each practice test, the detailed explanations of answers sections really helped me.

In addition to the books in our catalog, I also went onto good old Google and searched for Illinois CDL practice tests. I found a handful of practice tests for both the Core Knowledge test as well as the Air Brake Test.

This morning, I went to the DMV and took my Commercial Learner’s Permit (CLP) Test and my Air Brake Endorsement Test. I waited in a line, got my photo taken, and took my tests. For each test, you can take it up to 3 times before you have to wait for several days before you can retake the tests. When I sat down at the testing computer, I had nervous butterflies in my stomach. Tapping through question after question with growing confidence, I realized I really was quite well prepared. Finally answering the last question, I instantly got my test score. I passed! I now have my CLP.

Starting next week, I will be moving on to the next phase of my Bookmobile Driver training: Driving Big B!

¿Hablas español?: Serving Spanish-Speaking Patrons at Bloomington Public Library

By Olivia Buck

It can be difficult for libraries to reach out to the members of our communities who speak a language other than English. Not all staff members can communicate with patrons who speak other languages, the patrons may not understand the speakers at our programs, documents can’t be translated into every language we may need, etc. As someone who minored in Spanish in school (and someone who is passionate about languages in general), I have spent time trying to think of new ways to reach out to those who primarily speak Spanish (or other languages). I am always excited to hear about the ways that we can serve these members of our community.

I talked to several staff members at my library to create a list of all the various ways we reach out to non-English speaking members of our community. Below you will find a list of the various methods our library has used in order to try to engage with the non-English speakers in our area.

  • Self-Checkouts have a Spanish language option available.

Patrons can tap a button that allows them to use the self-checkout in Spanish. This way they can easily checkout, view their accounts, and renew their items.

  • Spanish Checkout Guides and Marketing

At BPL, we have had a Spanish Checkout Guide for many years. The guide introduces new patrons to our services and library card policies. When signing up new cardholders, I have used this to help me explain the card in a way that will make the most sense to Spanish-speaking patrons. We have also translated some of our Summer Reading Program documents into Spanish.

  • World Language Collections

Our World Language Collections include a variety of languages including Spanish, French, German, Hindi, Tagalog, and several others. We have materials for patrons of all ages which include books, movies, music, and audiobooks. We also have e-books and e-audiobooks available in Spanish for our patrons to check out online.

  • Language Learning Resources

Our library has a variety of language learning resources available to our patrons. In addition to books, movies, and audio CDs, we have online resources available as well. These include: Duolingo, Mango Languages, Sign Language 101, and Transparent Language Online.

  • Programming

Our library has hosted various programs that may appeal to those of other cultures and backgrounds. Examples include the following: Celebration of India, Día de los niños, and the Chinese Mid-Autumn Moon Festival.

Our library’s Outreach Library Associate also attends various community events that reach out to groups of people the library may not have contact with otherwise. She has attended meetings with a group called Conexiones Latinas de McLean County and signed up library cards for ESL students at the nearby community college.

  • Spanish Book Club

In February 2019, Bloomington Public Library started a Spanish Book Club (club de lectura en español). As the name suggests, the selected book is written in Spanish and the book discussion is largely in Spanish as well. Discussed titles have included Mi negro pasado, Más allá del invierno, and others. The club is facilitated by a Spanish Literature professor from a nearby university. The Spanish Book Clubs have been well attended, by both native speakers as well as a few attendees who were learning Spanish. The participants come from all different backgrounds including patrons originally from Columbia, Guatemala, Mexico, and other Spanish-speaking countries. Attendees have expressed excitement about the book club. In fact, they have organized their own meetings outside of the library and have put together a Facebook group to keep up with members of the book club. At the first meeting of the book club, approximately 50% of attendees had never had a library card before, and signed up for a card that day.

  • Foreign Language Contacts

On our staff webpage, we have compiled a list of staff members who speak other languages. The staff members volunteered to be a point of contact for patrons who speak various languages. Currently these languages include Spanish, Italian, and German. It has been a helpful resource. As a Spanish language contact, I have been called upon to help Spanish speakers sign up for library cards, inquire about lost or damaged items on their accounts, assist with computers and printing, and a variety of other topics.

Strategic Planning as a Community Engagement Tool

By Sarah Keister Armstrong

It’s a foundational value for libraries to be welcoming and inclusive. However, we must remind ourselves not to view these terms simply as passive adjectives, but rather as active verbs that are a part of our work within our communities. One way to actively welcome and include our community members is through strategic planning processes that are designed to actively engage all segments of our communities.

While we likely are aware of many existing barriers to library usage, what may be less easy to comprehend are the barriers to engaging in a participatory process. A strategic planning process is an ideal time to identify some of these barriers and begin working to alleviate them.

1. Use the opportunity of your strategic planning process to connect with members of your community that are not routine users of the library.

The question of how to reach non-users has been a common one in library strategic planning during the past few years. Philosophies differ regarding how much time and effort should be spent to try to reach segments of the population who do not currently engage with the library or its services. Some processes make this aim a focal point and devote significant resources to seeking out and engaging non-users. Others move forward in the belief that the best way to expand the library’s user base is to maximize the quality of its services and offerings for all. Regardless, there is definite value in thinking about who the people are who don’t use your library.

RAILS recently published a post on attracting new customers to the library on its new My Library Is… blog, and its advice to build relationships outside the library’s walls is spot-on. Community organizations have a unique capacity to reach audiences that are unfamiliar with the library. They also have established trust with the community members they serve that is needed to communicate information about the library in a dependable way. For example, groups that serve veterans and military families, organizations that serve immigrants and refugees, and faith-based organizations are increasingly engaging with libraries, particularly as the library community continues to emphasize that it is a place for everyone.

Your library’s connections with other community organizations may be helpful in discovering and understanding segments of the community that could be better served through increased library usage.

Examples include:

  • Those who are minimally aware of the library
  • Those who might have a family member or neighbor that regularly uses the library; and
  • Those who visit the library every couple of years to vote or to access a notary public, but don’t see how they fit into what they perceive are the library’s offerings.

2. When your strategic plan is completed, capitalize on the opportunity to communicate back to the public about the goals you have set and the impact members of the public have had on the decision making process.

When people fill out a survey, provide written suggestions on a comment card, or send a quick email with an idea, they want to see follow up. They want to know that they were heard, and more so, that their input was seriously considered.

That’s why strategic planning has such natural connections with community engagement campaigns. When a library invests time and resources into seeking input from the community during the strategic planning process, it is important to communicate the results of that phase of the project back to the public. Increasingly, strategic plans consist of a public-facing document that both demonstrates the overarching goals and strategies crafted in response to community input and functions as a communication piece to engage the public.

So who should you tell about your new strategic plan? Everyone! Reference it in your marketing and communications with the residents of the community you serve. Share it with the municipal governments, community-based organizations, and social service agencies that your library works with (or that you would like to work with). Emphasize that you appreciate the feedback your public has provided and that your library is making discernable actions as a result.

3. Be conscious about the voices that are invited and able to participate in any community feedback gathering stage.

It’s easy for us to engage with those already inside our social and professional bubbles. Inherently, community engagement efforts require us to reach beyond those bubbles. During a strategic planning process, or anytime your organization is seeking external input, it is essential for your library to be aware of the voices that are at the table. It also is important to recognize the professional expertise of individuals working in libraries, and balance that with the feedback received from those we serve, which can sometimes conflict with what we consider to be best practices.

Even at times when we are not directly soliciting feedback from those already engaged with the library, we still need to remain cognizant of the bias we may have toward the needs of our most loyal users and supporters.

There’s a natural tendency to approach strategic planning with a mindset that assumes we already know what the library’s strengths and weaknesses are, and that there is no community feedback that would surprise us. Of course, there are countless ways libraries have been surprised by unexpected tidbits within their community feedback.

But even if the data you collect through a survey or series of listening sessions or casual conversations simply reaffirms what you already know, there is value in reaching out to the community you serve. This is especially true when we can lengthen our tables and invite new voices to be heard.