The Kanawha County Public Library’s bookmobile has probably seen its last mile — at least in Kanawha County.
After more than a decade of visiting schools and bringing books to community centers, the bookmobile has been pulled from service.
Library Director Erika Connelly said, “We had difficulties right out of the gate with this vehicle. The company that built it went bankrupt not long after we got the bookmobile.”
There have been ongoing mechanical and electrical problems in the vehicle.
Along with managing the usual wear and tear of the road, the library has had to have extra work done on the bookmobile generator, which powers mobile services for patrons, including lights, computers and climate control.
The generator also powers the retractable steps leading into the back of the vehicle. When the power goes out, the steps can’t be pulled back up.
“And you can’t drive the bookmobile anywhere with the steps hanging down,” Connelly said.
Maintenance issues have only become more regular and more pronounced.
“It’s been a couple of years of headaches,” she said, adding, “The bookmobile has been towed at least twice, just in the last month and a half.”
The library has reached out to manufacturers in search of a replacement, and Connelly said they hope to have recommendations for the library’s board in time for its meeting in December.
The turnaround will not be quick, though.
If the board approves a recommendation, Connelly said it would probably take between a year to a year and a half before they are handed the keys to the new mobile library.
In the meantime, she said, the library would use a van to do some of the things the bookmobile did. The van can bring bins of books to different locations for patrons to browse. It also can bring patrons books they’ve ordered through the library’s website.
Connelly said the library also is exploring a plan for limited home delivery to patrons who normally can’t get to one of the county branches.
“At this point, we’re just gauging interest. We’re in the planning stages,” she said. “We need to figure out more than just a vehicle. We need to work out staffing and put the right policies in place to make something like that work.”
Connelly said they hope to roll out something in January.
She said the old mobile library has been pulled from the road, repaired again, and sent back to its garage at Riverside High School. The director said they are looking into whether there is interest in another library buying the vehicle. The vehicle might be a good first bookmobile for a smaller library.
“We’re not quite sure yet what we’re going to do with it,” Connelly said. “But we have the luxury of time. Right now, we can focus more on establishing a replacement and emptying the vehicle of its contents.”