GREENFIELD — It might be half the size of the old Hancock County Public Library techmobile, but the library’s new set of wheels has all the bells and whistles to serve off-site library patrons more effectively than ever before.
Library officials put the new $143,000 bookmobile into service this week. The minibus that brings the library to sites around the county made its first stop at J.B. Stephens Elementary School on Monday.
The mobile library replaces an older, larger unit that had been on the road since early 2003. The cost of maintaining that unit had increased beyond what was reasonable, and library officials decided in 2013 it was time for an upgrade.
Having a mobile library has long helped the library reach patrons who might not otherwise have access to books and other learning materials. Officials knew the service was valuable, but they also had their eyes on some improvements as the old techmobile aged.
Story continues below gallery
Not only is the new bookmobile smaller, making it more mobile and easier to maneuver, but library officials said it’s better in many ways.
For example, a portable cart will allow library officials to bring items into schools, nursing homes and more, instead of requiring patrons to come outside. That’s a boost to both access and safety.
“That was always one of the biggest issues, especially when it comes to serving the senior population when weather gets colder or when there is a risk of illness,” library outreach manager Michael Schull said.
Library officials can use a power lift to lower book carts full of materials out of the vehicle and roll them into a facility.
“The old bookmobile made it tough for people who have disability issues and things like that,” Schull said. “Just getting in it was a problem.”
Library director Dave Gray said that, if the new unit proves to be as popular as he thinks it will, there is a good chance of putting a second bookmobile into service down the road.
“This is more of a transition period for us right now as we go from the bus to the van,” Gray said. “We’ll need to gauge what type of demand we’re going to have for certain types of services.”
Having a new mobile library unit means adjusting the outreach library service in several important ways, officials said. They plan to make it iPad-based for quick checkouts, and the vehicle will serve as a rolling wireless Internet hotspot, providing people with Web access.
“We’ll be able to provide Wi-Fi access for anyone that has a device,” Schull said.
Library officials said they will have the capability to offer iPad and computer service if there is a demand. They also hope to expand the bookmobile hours and start weekend service soon.
The outreach program currently offers services Monday through Thursday.
Schull said they’re also hopeful of adding services for preschools and child care facilities that are not currently part of the outreach program.
Expanding some of the current services offered at area schools is also on the priority list, Schull said.
A smaller bookmobile means less space for books, DVDs, CDs and other materials, so library officials said they are taking care to provide the newest, most popular items.
“Our capacity on here is around 1,500 to 2,000 volumes depending on what we bring,” Schull said. “The techmobile was probably around three times that. We have lost space, but we’ve gained flexibility.”
Bookmobile operator assistant Joe Borrelli said it was interesting to see the difference it made taking the books inside to students at J.B. Stephens this week as opposed to requiring all the students to come onto the bookmobile.
The process was considerably more streamlined.
“Those kids were so quiet and silent,” Borrelli said with a laugh. “They all behaved because they were in school instead of outside.”
The new bookmobile is also more cost-efficient when it comes to keeping it mobile and in use.
“When you can go from a vehicle that gets five miles to the gallon to moving to one that is about 18 or potentially 20-plus miles, it’s kind of a no-brainer in that regard,” Schull said. “The long-term savings will be obvious.”
The van is equipped with an automatic retractable side awning, which officials plan to use when they visit places in the summer or during outdoor functions at either of the library’s two branches.
“Now that we’ve got it, we’re looking for more adventures for it,” Schull said.