Library on wheels

Remember way back in the day when the bookmobile would come to town? You’d step inside a little van and find a miniature library right at your fingertips, with colorful picture books, chunky VHS tapes and even games to play with.

Photo © Overdrive, Inc.
Photo © Overdrive, Inc.

Remember way back in the day when the bookmobile would come to town? You’d step inside a little van and find a miniature library right at your fingertips, with colorful picture books, chunky VHS tapes and even games to play with.

Now it’s 2013, and the cute little bookmobile you outgrew with your childhood is stopping into town—and it’s been doing some growing of its own.

The new and improved traveling library is bigger and better than ever, with a huge emphasis on “bigger.” This contemporary library on wheels travels in style in a giant, 74-foot long, 18-wheel semi-trailer.

The world just got a little bit more awesome.

Instead of traditional library books, though, this new, modern bookmobile showcases a digital library and ways to access e-books and audiobooks through local libraries. This isn’t a new thing, even if you haven’t heard about it. In 2012 alone, readers checked out more than 70 million e-books and audiobooks, according to OverDrive Inc., a worldwide e-book and audiobook distributor and the Digital Bookmobile’s developer.

That’s a hell of a lot of downloads.

While digital media has spread like wildfire in popularity, many libraries have faced challenges funding traditional print collections and the staff needed to keep libraries open to the public. They’ve also faced challenges engaging their local communities.

Enter digital library collections! The Digital Bookmobile is here to save the day and make libraries seem a little less stuffy. With sexy exhibits and “virtual branch” website access, it’s like Bruce Wayne created a traveling Batcave and decided to open it up to strangers.

The truck has its own welcome and orientation area that sits flush with the enormous trailer and has laptop stations to play with and a giant flat screen TV displaying information.

Visitors step inside to see a Gadget Gallery, which is pretty much as cool as it sounds. Adults and kids alike can smudge their fingers across a variety of devices—including iPad, iPhone, Android, BlackBerry, NOOK, Sony Reader and Kindle—to see how library rentals work on different mediums.

The library monster truck doesn’t stop there, though. The thing is enormous and has several sections for visitors to explore. There’s Audiobook Alley, with screens and headsets for searching through and discovering how to rent audiobooks, a Video Lounge with seating, a Digital Catalog area and the E-book Experience section.

Anyone with a kid (or any book-lover for that matter) in Portland shouldn’t be ashamed to jump up and down with indecent glee, especially when you have the opportunity to get onto the beastly truck and experience the excitement of the bookmobile again by living vicariously through new eyes.

The implications of the evolving bookmobile are huge. We’ve taken something that started in a horse-drawn wagon only a century ago and transformed it into an epic, traveling instigator with technological badassery.

As someone in her early 20s, it’s incredible to me that times have changed so dramatically in such a short span. If someone had asserted 20 years ago that the bookmobile would drive into town without actually carrying any physical books, I think most of us would have laughed. Hysterically.

Which really makes me curious to see how the future of reading and learning will grow. Who knows, maybe a flying bookmobile hover car or a librarian in a jet pack will become the future bookmobiles.

Perhaps I’m too pumped over a silly truck with a few computers in it, but I can’t help but imagine myself as a child in wonder of what the bookmobile has become.

Of course, today’s children have already been inundated with and desensitized to such technology, but the magic of a roaming library still hopefully holds appeal for children growing up with seemingly endless access to information.

The most wonderful experience anyone can hope to glean from a bookmobile is a newfound desire to read, to learn and to explore. For all of us old college students, this motivation came in the form of a little van filled with a small selection of books that inspired a joy akin to hearing the ice cream man coming down the street.

Times change and evolve, and the new and improved version of this classic will hopefully engage the children growing up in our fast-paced world and help them to take a moment and find pleasure in a simple library e-book.