Sunday, November 14, 2021

Library on Wheels booking it to the West Side

Buffalo and Erie County Public Library bookmobile

By Jillian Kasmore 

and Angelea Preston     

           Fall is in the air as elementary students at West Buffalo Charter School eagerly stand shoulder to shoulder in anticipation to climb into the mobile library. 

     Their second grade teacher commands their attention, as these hungry book lovers impatiently wait to see what plot line they will immerse themselves into.

            One student shrieked that he was going to pick a book about superheroes, while another girl shyly whispered that she was going to become a bug expert. As they scrambled to find their quests, they realized that each had endless opportunities right in front of their fingertips inside the Library on Wheels, the Buffalo and Erie County Public Library’s bookmobile.

            Andrea Todoro, the school leader of West Buffalo Charter, 113 Lafayette Ave., said that having access to these resources is the first step her students have in the world of reading. Although it is the first year that the school is participating in the program, she still sees the impact it has on all ages which includes kindergarten through eighth grade.

            The students look forward to the Bookmobile coming each week. Watching their faces light up when they enter and see the books is the best thing in the world. Our families are grateful that our school and their children get to participate in this program,” Todoro said. 

            The library system has a total of 37 libraries and year-round Bookmobile services that provide free services for those who live in Erie County, including the West Side of Buffalo.

            West Side resident George Olmsted believes that there is a deeper need for the community to keep this library on wheels.

            I grew up as a kid over by Kleinhans, there was a library down the street, but the bookmobile would be in my neighborhood quite often. As a kid, it was a great way to get a book whenever you need one. They were way ahead of their time. They had the mobile idea way before the food trucks,” Olmsted said.

            In order to be more accessible, the library created the first ever bookmobile service in 1947.  Samantha Purpora, the mobile services manager, said that the bookmobile ran until 2005 when budget cuts caused the library to take it off the road.

            “This bookmobile has been in existence for five years. In the 70s and 80s they had bookmobiles. At some point during budget cuts, they got rid of them. People love to come on and talk about how they were children and how it used to come to their schools. They love to see the new one,” Purpora said.

            In 2015, the library made a bid for the bookmobile services to come back due to the need in particular communities that lacked physical libraries or areas that do not have access to transportation.

            The bookmobile stores over 3,000 books, movies, and music for every age.  It offers free Wi-Fi and laptops. Members can pick-up books on hold and return items. Erie County residents also can sign up for a library card at the bookmobile.

            The bookmobile visits many locations weekly throughout Erie County, like senior apartments, and schools, including locations right here on the West Side. 

            “Charter schools are particularly more receptive to the Bookmobile coming because they do not have a librarian. Students are able to get library cards. We make regular stops so they know when they will see us,” Purpora said.

            Julia Verbanic who has been a full-time librarian for the bookmobile for over three years, sees the benefit of the Library on Wheels especially in the COVID-19 pandemic.

            “For people who cannot make it into a regular library because of lack of transportation, or they don't feel comfortable, it is a really good alternative. It also is a good starter for kids who have not been in a public library. It's a good reminder that the library is still here,” Verbanic said.

            With the positive feedback from the community, the library has also decided to fund a new Library2GO van besides the original Bookmobile in December 2022. Purpora said that the library y will be using the bookmobile for schools, daycares, and summer camps while the Library2GO van will be used for older adult living facilities.

            We currently visit 10 older adult living facilities and are looking to expand in the upcoming year. These services are vital for older adults who can't drive or travel to a brick-and-mortar library. We also offer Library by Mail service to any of our patrons who are homebound,” Purpora said.