The Portland Public Library’s new “mobile branch” visited USM on Wednesday for the first time, showing off their customized Mercedes-Benz mobile library and spreading the word on what they have in store for Portland.
“A lot of people in the city have busy schedules, and one too many things on their plates,” said Portland Public Library Team Leader Steve Weigle. “Not a lot of people have time to stop by the library. So we’re bringing the library to them.”
The goal is to bring books, audiobooks and DVDs to areas that no longer have direct access to a library. The idea of a portable library came after the city closed three branches of the library in 2010 as a cost-cutting measure. The branches on Munjoy Hill and in the West End were closed, along with the Riverton branch on outer Forest Avenue, which has recently been reopened.
“We needed a method of serving those areas, so we decided to get the bookmobile up and running as soon as we could,” said Weigle.
This isn’t the first time residents of Portland have spotted a bookmobile driving down their streets. For the better part of two decades, a lumbering, bus-sized vehicle driven by librarian Jim Charette was a common sight. But services stopped in 1993 when the vehicle broke down, and the program was suspended.
This new bookmobile is more efficient and should be on the road for a long time, said Weigle. The vehicle holds roughly 1,700 books, is powered almost completely by three solar panels on the roof and has its own Wi-Fi hotspot. It is also equipped with a lift to help patrons with disabilities browse its stacks. According to Weigle, the vehicle was custom made by a company in Nevada that more frequently produces SWAT and emergency vehicles. The project was funded by Key Bank.
“It’s really an impressive machine.” said Weigle. “I couldn’t manage to drive it the first time without spilling a shelf of books though,” he added with a chuckle.
The main goal of the bookmobile project right now is to get library cards into the hands of children and young adults who otherwise might not set foot in a library. Along with fiction and non-fiction for adults, the bookmobile also houses plenty of books for young adults and children in its stacks.
Right now the bookmobile is only budgeted to run 20 hours each week, but Weigle hopes that someday it can be a full-time operation.
“The people of Portland are already stopping and pointing whenever we drive by,” said Weigle. “We’re off to a good start and are very optimistic.”