Edina Szasz sits high in the driver’s seat of Geauga County Public Library’s bookmobile. She watches the mirrors carefully as she guides the 31-foot bus into the narrow driveway of an immaculate Amish farmhouse—one of the bookmobile’s weekly stops on its rounds through the countryside of northeast Ohio.
“At first I thought there was no way I could drive this bus,” says Szasz, who has worked as a driver-clerk for the bookmobile for about a year. “But now it’s no problem.”
Szasz is one of four library employees who steer the rainbow-striped bus to Amish communities, senior citizen centers, and daycare facilities, checking out books to patrons along the way. Getting books into the hands of those who might otherwise not have easy access to them is the mission of the bookmobile and its employees.
“We see the same patrons every week,” says Sharon Cramer, who has driven the bookmobile for six years and hopes to continue the work for years to come. “We really get to know what’s going on in their lives.”
Cramer and Szasz, as well as the bookmobile’s other driver-clerks—Pat Bonhard and Paulette Mescall—fulfill a number of roles, including checking out books, checking in books, shelving books, issuing library cards, and keeping the bus moving to the next stop.
“On the bookmobile, we’re pages, circulation clerks, reference librarians, and driver-clerks,” Cramer says. “Our day goes by so fast. We don’t even watch the clock—it just flies by.”
At a farmhouse near Parkman, an Amish woman brings her newborn baby out to the bus to introduce her to Cramer and Szasz; at another, Cramer talks with a young mother about the latest novel Oprah Winfrey has assigned for her book club.
For both patrons and employees, the bus is more than a library-on-wheels; it’s also a community center, a reading group, and a circle of friends.
“We try to get our patrons what they need,” Cramer says. “We try to think of what they’d like—I’ll think, ‘Irma likes this, or Mrs. Dettweiler likes that.’”
The bookmobile started rolling back in 1986 with a grant from the state of Ohio. The grant was used to purchase a recreational vehicle, which was filled with books and made a few stops each week. Demand for the bookmobile’s services eventually required a larger vehicle, and in 1992 a 31-foot bus was purchased to house the touring library. The bus makes 58 stops a week, carries up to 5,000 regularly rotated items—including books, magazines, CDs, and movies—and loans out about 150,000 items a year.
For the Amish—who travel by horse and buggy and don’t often get the chance to visit Geauga County’s public libraries—the bookmobile and the friendly faces of the drivers are especially welcome.
“It’s difficult for them to get to the library,” says Cramer of the bookmobile’s Amish patrons. “Our bus comes to their driveway—it makes it convenient for them. The whole neighborhood will walk down to us.”
One such stop is at the home of Irma Kurtz and her family. Kurtz and her sister, Amanda Troyer, along with their children, enjoy boarding the bookmobile each week to get a new supply of books.
“The fact that it comes to my house is a definite plus,” says Kurtz, a mother of five. “Our bookmobile ladies are the best.”
Driving the bookmobile does have its drawbacks; the bus has no bathroom, for instance, and the driver-clerks need to bring their own bottled water. But these minor inconveniences pale in comparison to the overall experience of driving down the country roads, bringing books to people who love to read—and making friends along the way.
“I like this better than just sitting in one place,” says Szasz, who moved to the United States from Hungary several years ago and has to speak slowly so bookmobile patrons can understand her lilting accent. “I like to talk to the patrons, and we have a good time.”