November 16, 2017

It’s Electric | One Cool Thing

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Bookmobiles have been a part of library service for decades, but they’re typically bus-sized vehicles that require large parking lots or streets in order to make a visit. Library book bikes have become a hot new thing in cities but are range-limited by the pedal power of staff.

To improve outreach, the Grandview Heights Public Library (GHPL), OH, envisioned something in between the two for its midsized suburban town: a fully electric low-speed vehicle (the base model is similar in size to a standard golf cart) that can go where full-sized vehicles can’t.

GHPL direction Ryan McDonnell was inspired during the early days of the food truck boom and followed it up with some research. “A low-speed vehicle is ideal for our small service area,” he explained. “It also has an exceptional ‘green’ rating and is a fraction of the cost of a standard bookmobile.”

McDonnell and GHPL staff worked with community member Mike Dexter on the design and local vehicle customization firm All-a-Cart on the construction to bring the vehicle, called the PopUp Library, to life. The GHPL Foundation contributed the full $50,000 cost, which includes the vehicle base, all the customization and design, and the furniture and shelving.

Building on the foundation-supported “Wi-Fi in Grandview Parks” project, the PopUp Library is a next step in expanding library services into the community.

During its 2016 summer season, the PopUp Library visited a summer concert series, an arts festival, schools, pools, farmers markets, parades, cycling and running races, and two different local brewing and entertainment events.

GHPL youth services manager Eileen McNeil enjoyed the interaction with the public: “When we take the PopUp Library to the parks, it’s hard not to smile. Usually the kids [who’ve been inside are] sitting around on the curbs or in the grass, completely immersed in the book they just found. This…creates a contagious desire to grab a book, sit under a tree, and get lost in the pages.”

ON A ROLL

About the size of a tiny delivery van, the PopUp Library is perfect for crowded events and can be managed by one person. It’s charged by a standard 110 volt outlet and is street legal, so it can be driven to a location and parked on the grass or sidewalk. As a low-speed vehicle (a special designation in Ohio), it requires only a standard drivers license to operate it, and it’s registered with standard state plates. Best of all, the truck can be driven with the display doors open, perfect for participating in parades!

Lift-up metal shelving from Montel can display 50–100 books and has more storage room behind; materials on the truck are limited to new books (AV materials haven’t been included). Reference and circulation staff choose books based on the theme of the event: cooking and gardening for farmers markets, children’s books for school visits, and beer and wine for the brewing and entertainment activities. In the integrated library system (ILS), the truck is designated as a separate branch, with items assigned that temporary location code, streamlining circulation and statistics.

Between the two side displays, accessed via a door on the back, the main storage compartment holds plastic tables and chairs, a step ladder, marketing materials, and other equipment. Additional materials are kept in smaller compartments beneath the display panels.

About 20 staff members at GHPL have been trained to drive the truck, and they volunteer for shifts using an online scheduler. Staff bring a library laptop and smartphone (for a wireless hot spot connection if needed) to access the ILS, so visitors can sign up for library cards, check out materials, place items on hold, and update their account information.

“Staff love getting out in the community and working special events,” said Canaan Faulkner, public relations manager at GHPL. “The response from the community has been overwhelmingly positive. It’s been amazing to connect with new people and incoming residents…. [It is] not only a great service tool but a great marketing tool as well.”

Patron Betsy Gambone describes it best: “Our kids’ faces light up when they see the PopUp Library at their favorite places in the community. [It] reminds me of the way children react when they see an ice cream truck.”


Jennifer Koerber is an independent trainer and speaker on emerging technologies and the social web and coauthor (with Michael Sauers) of Emerging Technologies: A Primer for Librarians (Rowman & Littlefield, 2015)

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